Af-Taliban prisoner swap ‘postponed

Clay Curtis
November 16, 2019

President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday announced the Afghan government's intention regarding the conditional release of three senior Haqqani network leaders including Anas Haqqani, Haji Mali Khan and Hafiz Rashid.

Many had hoped the deal would pave the way for direct talks between Kabul and the Taliban, which most analysts agree is the only way to achieve a lasting peace in Afghanistan. "And so unfortunately, the two professors might not be released", she added.

Afghan officials had earlier ruled out the release of Anas Haqqani, describing his release as a red line for the government and the people of Afghanistan.

Two days later, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed to AFP that no swap had yet taken place. The Taliban said three of their prisoners were flown to Qatar in a special plane from Bagram.

Petraeus and Serchuk suggest that a new peace deal should require a nationwide ceasefire, and the withdrawal of United States forces should not even be offered as a consideration.

In a statement, the American University of Afghanistan said it welcomed the development and was "encouraged to hear reports of the possible release of our two colleagues, Kevin King and Timothy Weeks".

"It was a shortcoming from the American side the swap did not happen", he told Reuters.

He said some of their people and family members of the three prisoners had even distributed candies when came to know about their release from jail.

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Muzhda said the insurgents were insisting that Haqqani and the two other prisoners be delivered in to their custody first - potentially in Qatar, where they maintain a political office - before releasing the hostages.

Cutting ties to terrorist groups was one of the issues agreed upon in the previous US-Taliban peace talks in Doha, but Petraeus and Serchuk cite "the experience of recent coalition military operations in Afghanistan" to argue that "al-Qaeda's links to the Taliban remain strong". He claimed they had learnt that USA officials suddenly changed their mind and refused to release their prisoners. "We kept our two prisoners in a very safe place in Afghanistan and now shifted to them to another safe place in the country", said the Taliban leader. Rashid was arrested with Anas Haqqani at Bahrain airport on way back from Qatar, where they had gone to meet Taliban leaders freed from Guantanamo. "The Americans and the Afghan officials once again didn't honour their commitment". The move had left the Taliban "astonished and hurt", said one of the sources, who is familiar with the details of the prisoner exchange.

Pleading anonymity, he said they had not been told why the prisoners' exchange delayed.

However a diplomat stated in Washington on Wednesday the alternate had not taken place.

According to the source, the Taliban prisoners were brought to Qatar, but had yet to be handed over to the group.

The reasons for the delay were not clear. "And then they shifted them back to the Bagram jail", said the Taliban leader.

It is unclear as to why the release of the Taliban and the foreign professors has been delayed.

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