AT News Report
KABUL: The Taliban freed two Westerners they had held for more than three years on Tuesday, in exchange for the release of three senior insurgent leaders, officials said, in a deal that officials hoped could pave the way for Afghan peace talks with the Taliban, New York Times Reported.
The exchanged has been held in Zabul province, some source said, adding there was 48 hours ceasefire in Nawbahar district so the two western profess could be handed over to the US forces.
Kevin King, 63, from the US, and Timothy Weeks, 50, from Australia, were professors at AUAF who were abducted by the Haqqani Network in Kabul in August 2016.
In accordance with a public statement by President Ghani last week, in which he described the prisoner swap as a gesture to restart the peace talks, the professors were freed in exchange for the release of Anas Haqqani, Hafiz Rasheed and Mali Khan, three Haqqani Network commanders who were captured outside of Afghanistan in 2014.
Australian Prime Minster said, “Were profoundly pleased and relieved Australian Tim Weeks and his US colleague, Kevin King, who were held hostage since August 2016, have been released by their kidnappers today in Afghanistan. We convey deep appreciation to the Governments of US and Afghanistan.”
Roland Kobia, EU Special Envoy for Afghanistan, said releasing high-level prisoners is a highly symbolic, and courageous, decision to build confidence.
“Now it should be followed by a mutual ceasefire and negotiations. The ball of confidence-building must continue rolling,” he said in a tweet message.
Peace requires bolder steps, showing good faith, building confidence, paving way for genuine peace talks, said Dr. Omar Zakhilwal, former Finance Minister.
“The release of three Taliban prisoners in exchange for the two professors is an encouraging and welcoming such step. We ask that further bigger steps are taken on both sides with respect to not just the release of prisoners but also the reduction of violence. Bloodshed of Afghans must come to an end!” the tweeted.
The exchange was brokered, in part, by the American peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, who had earlier negotiated a tentative agreement with the Taliban that would have included terms of an American troop withdrawal. But those talks were abruptly aborted by President Trump in September.
Now, the prisoner exchange could be a step toward restarting talks between the United States and the Taliban, who have said they will stand by the terms negotiated with Mr. Khalilzad, New York Times said.
Indeed, the Afghan masses, which are bearing the brunt of war for four decades, desperately looking toward restoration of peace. This release of key Haqqani’s prisoners from Afghan prison is big questions for the Afghans that will the move help bring peace in the country.
Moreover, what Trump administration is looking behind their release, and what advantages it can get – will it make the Taliban ready to reduce violence and agree for a comprehensive ceasefire? Time will prove whether it was a good deal or bad or even worse.
A majority of ordinary Afghans are worry that the prisoners swap won’t help renew peace talks. The Afghan people want Anas Haqqani to be executed for his crime against innocent Afghans.
Haqqani Terrorist Network is most notorious who were involved in big terrorist attacks in Kabul and across Afghanistan. The group claimed responsibility for several complicated deadly incidents, in which hundreds of innocent people were killed and wounded. Moreover, Taliban are yet to cut their relations with the Taliban, something Afghan and US officials have big concern.
Taliban in a statement confirmed the release of Anas Haqqani, Mali Khan, and Hafiz Abdul Rashid.
Taliban confirmed “successfully” released of the two foreign university professors and ten Afghan soldiers, thanking the government of Qatar for facilitating the process.