QATAR – On a weekend night you can't escape the roar of race car engines along the coastal roads here in the Qatari capital. It must be a bit of a culture shock for the five Taliban detainees sprung from Guantanamo Bay last week in exchange for the freedom of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
There has been an outcry from critics of the prisoner swap, who worry that these men with blood on their hands are getting off far too easily. Qatar's citizens are the richest in the world, per capita, but only a minority of residents here are actually citizens and the Taliban five are not among them.
We do know their families are coming here to live with the former prisoners in some sort of residential compound.
Sources here say they are likely to live in "5 star villas" along with more than a few of their compatriots who are already living in the Qatari capital at the expense of this gas-rich Emirate.
Qataris have a different relationship with the Taliban than does the U.S.
Afghanistan is not their war. These men and their families are fellow Muslims. And Qatar sees the latest prisoner swap as a humanitarian gesture. That is pretty much all Doha is saying.
The terms of the former Guantanamo prisoners' existence here have not been publicly spelled out either. One source says they won't even be using the phone while here.
They are officially banned from fundraising and political organizing. It is not clear how much that can be monitored. Washington has said it is leaving the monitoring up to Doha. But some here say it is hard to believe the Americans won't be watching them, too.
At least one of the former captives, according to a relative, plans to return to the battlefield after his year of loose house arrest in Qatar is up. Former regional governor and military commander Noorullah Noori is also wanted by the U.N. for war crimes in connection with the massacre of Afghan shi'ites.
Most of the "Taliban dream team," as one former Afghan official put it, either had very close ties with Taliban leader in exile Mullah Omar or with Al Qaeda. That said, some have suggested they are "grey beards", well past their prime and a little out of touch.
One Afghan journalist I have spoken to says actually their value has gone up rather than down, as the timing of their release is very sensitive, with the U.S. troop withdrawal coming up. He said it makes the Afghan people question the commitment to their security, but adds that Afghans do understand American concerns about getting a soldier home.
Qatar's track record for keeping track of militants in its custody has not been stellar. Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed slipped through here in 1996 when Washington thought Doha was keeping tabs on him, and another Gitmo prisoner transferred here a few years ago, Jarallah al-Marri, was supposed to be confined to Qatar but managed to turn up in London, where he was arrested. This time, U.S. officials say they are confident that the Taliban five will be kept in this country for the term of the deal and as such, their threat will be mitigated.