Australian Timothy Weeks,left, and American Kevin King, right

Afghan government reconsiders prisoner swap with Taliban

Sediq Sediqqi, the spokesperson for Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, in a tweet late Saturday, November 16, said the Afghan government would reconsider prisoner swap with the Taliban. The tweet came while last week President Ghani, in a nationally televised speech, announced that the Afghan government had agreed to release Anas Haqanni, including two other high profile Taliban prisoners, in exchange with release of two foreign captives.       

According to Ghani, the three high profile members of Haqqani Network (HN), a brutal faction of the Taliban, Anas Haqqani, Hafiz Abdul Rashid, and Haji Mali Khan were to be freed in exchange for release of two professors of the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF), American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks. The two teachers were kidnapped outside the AUAF compound by the Taliban in August 2016.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesperson for the Taliban, told The Washington Post on Friday, November 15, that the three Taliban prisoners did not show up at mutually agreed exchange spot, somewhere in Afghan soil. He, however, avoided to give more details for the no-show.

Citing the Taliban sources, the Reuters reported that the two western hostages were shifted to ‘a new and safe place’ after the three Taliban commanders failed to land in Doha, capital of Qatar— the deal was to free the two professors after the Taliban prisoners’ safe landing in Qatar, according to a source in the militant group.

But Mr. Sediqqi says, “Taliban’s failure to observe the agreed terms have caused postponement of the prisoner swap.”

On the other hand, John R. Bass, US Ambassador to Afghanistan, extended support for Ghani’s announcement on release of three Taliban prisoners. US Ambassador described the move as a way to promote peace.

Ghani, while delivering his televised message, assured the Afghan people that the Afghan government and its international partners had already created mechanisms about the release of the Taliban prisoners. He noted that the exchange of prisoners would not encourage the group to intensify fighting against the government.

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a consultative Loya Jirga, in Kabul, Afghanistan April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

On Wednesday, a day after Ghani confirmed prisoner swap, a Taliban car bomb killed 12 and wounded 20 others, including some foreign nationals, in PD15 of Kabul city.

Some unconfirmed reports suggest one of the two foreign hostages has died under Taliban custody. Though the Taliban have not said anything about health condition of the captives, President Ghani earlier last week highlighted that the foreign captives were not in good health.    

Nazar Mohammad Motmaeen, a pro-Taliban political analyst, talking at a press conference today, November 17, said that prisoner swap failed after the Americans stepped back of the deal they had made with the Taliban in Qatar. He underlined the Americans were pressing on negotiations over exchange of prisoners. The Americans insisted upon direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government but the Taliban refused to open direct talks with the Kabul government. Motameen claimed the American negotiators had agreed on prisoner swap without any preconditions.  

“This is the second time that the Americans are leaving the negotiating table. Once on September 08 that [President] Donald Trump escaped the agreement achieved after five months. And this time, they (the Americans) escaped the agreement again,” he asserted.