The President of Afghanistan promised Kelly Walton that the man who killed her husband, an Australian soldier, would be executed but now as part of a prisoner release negotiated between the Taliban and the US Government, he is expected to be set free.
- Kelly Walton was married to Australian soldier Stjepan Milosevic, who was killed in an attack in 2012
- Lance Corporal Milosevic’s killer, Hekmatullah, is one of 400 prisoners behind high-profile attacks who have been approved for release
- A former adviser to the US State Department on Afghanistan says Australia’s lobbying against his release will fail
President Ashraf Ghani signed an execution order for the fighter, who is known as Hekmatullah, and spoke to family members of the three Australian soldiers that he killed to promise the sentence would be carried out in full.
Ms Walton told RN Breakfast it was so close to happening, Australian officials gave her a date for the execution.
“Canberra rang us in the morning to advise that it was happening and we had full expectations that it was happening,” she said.
But on the day Hekmatullah and several Taliban fighters were scheduled for execution, the Taliban conducted a series of bomb attacks around Kabul, according to Ms Walton.
“To get a phone call six hours later saying, ‘Sorry, didn’t happen,’ was pretty devastating.”
‘He could have already been released’
Hekmatullah killed three Australian soldiers, including Ms Walton’s husband Lance Corporal Stjepan Milosevic, in an attack while he was serving as a sergeant in the Afghan National Army in August 2012 .
He is one of 400 Taliban prisoners, among a larger group of 5,000 promised to be released under a deal with the Taliban, who are deemed to be especially controversial.
The Australian Government, which opposes capital punishment, will not lobby Afghanistan to execute Hekmatullah.
However both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne have said they have lobbied the US Government in recent days, arguing he should not be released.
“Australia supports the peace process very strongly, but we have made these representations and conveyed very clearly our concerns that releasing Hekmatullah would not necessarily advance that peace process,” Ms Payne said.
But having been notified of his imminent release on Friday last week, Ms Walton fears Hekmatullah could already have been freed.
On Sunday, a three-day gathering of thousands of officials and stakeholders from across Afghanistan called loya jirga concluded with the meeting approving the release of the 400 prisoners.
“He could have already been released and if not it will be today or tomorrow,” Ms Walton said.
Why are Taliban fighters being released?
The US Government and the Taliban agreed on the prisoner release as part of a February agreement to start a peace process for the almost-19-year war in Afghanistan.
The deal also involved the Taliban releasing about 1,000 members of Afghanistan’s security forces.
Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the plan to release the prisoners.
“We acknowledge that the release of these prisoners is unpopular but this difficult action will lead to an important result,” he said.
The Afghan Government was not a party to the talks and there were initial objections to the release of the 400 prisoners, who are linked to high-profile attacks.
Barnett Rubin, former adviser to the US State Department on Afghanistan, told RN Breakfast Australia’s efforts had no chance of preventing the release.
“The US Government wants these negotiations to take place,” he said.
“When you’re in a negotiation with your enemy you don’t get to dictate what your enemy’s conditions are.”
“If you want to end the war and the enemy wont budge on some conditions, then you have to decide whether you want to meet them or not and the United States has decided it’s willing to meet them because [US President] Donald Trump wants to get out of Afghanistan.”
Ms Walton said she did not think Hekmatullah’s release would lead to peace.
“He is just one of 400,” she said. “There’s 399 others and these guys are the ones who have committed really serious crimes.”
“These guys will walk out of that prison in Kabul and into the arms of the Taliban and continue to wreak havoc in their country, or they’ll go over the border to Al Qaeda or worse.”
“I think this is a very, very big mistake on the part of the Trump administration to be making these sort of negotiations.
“I think it will bite them in years to come.”