Kabul hopes Afghanistan-Pakistan prisoner swap will help Taliban negotiations

Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, right, with Gen. Nicholson, commander, Resolute Support Mission and US forces in Afghanistan, in this file photo. (Courtesy ISPR)
Updated 11 October 2017
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Kabul hopes Afghanistan-Pakistan prisoner swap will help Taliban negotiations

KABUL: Afghanistan and Pakistan are preparing a prisoner-swap deal in what both sides hope signals an improvement in their relationship.
A tentative deal on exchange of detainees was struck between Afghan and Pakistani officials a month ago in New York, after US President Donald Trump announced his administration’s strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia, and spoke of stepping up attacks against militants and an open-ended military commitment in Afghanistan, where the US is fighting the longest war in its history.
Trump criticized Pakistan for its efforts in the war against insurgents then, and in recent days top US officials have made uncharacteristically sharp public comments claiming that Islamabad’s spy agency has ties with militants.
In the face of that mounting criticism, Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, visited Kabul last week to resume talks. He vowed Pakistan would fight against militants and would help the Afghan government in their attempts to negotiate with the Taliban.
Reports suggest Kabul hopes senior Taliban figures whom Pakistan will release as part of the agreement will help the government reach out to Taliban commanders on the battlefield.
Islamabad and Kabul have arrested a number of commanders and leaders affiliated to both Pakistani and Afghan Taliban groups in recent years.
Pakistan has also invited Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to visit Islamabad, but officials in Kabul say that trip is not yet scheduled.
“That is one of the issues under discussion. Nothing has been finalized,” Dr. Akram Khpelwak, one of Ghani’s advisers, told Arab News. “Both sides are working on a number of issues, ranging from exchange of prisoners to fighting extremism.”
Khpelwak and two other officials interviewed by Arab News said the Afghan government intended using the good offices of the Taliban detainees, among other means, to encourage Taliban combatants to come in from the cold after fighting for 16 years against US-led coalition forces.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, former deputy head of the Taliban leadership council, is the most prominent Afghan Taliban figure among the five that Islamabad plans to exchange, one security source told Arab News.
Another security official, who requested anonymity, said “Pakistan is freeing detainees in order to reduce the intense pressure from the US and NATO to show that it is sincere [about helping to stop militants].”
The official had no information about the reported Taliban plan to release several Western hostages it currently holds.
A spokesman for the Afghan Taliban declined to comment on that matter, or on the planned exchange of prisoners between Kabul and Islamabad.
Waheed Mozhdah, a political analyst and author of a book about the rule of the Taliban, believes the release of Mullah Baradar and others will ultimately have little impact on the peace process in Afghanistan.
“Mullah Baradar has said in the past that he won’t cooperate (with the start of peace talks) and the Taliban has also stated that no prisoner represents them,” Mozhdah told Arab News.
The five senior Taliban leaders that Pakistan wants to release, Mozhdah claimed, lost contact with Taliban commanders in the field years ago. Many of the new commanders have not even met them, he said.
He added that he believes the move is intended only to ease US pressure on Islamabad and that Pakistan will likely look to shift responsibility onto Afghanistan once the prisoners are freed.


British boat rescues migrants trying to cross Channel

Updated 18 February 2019
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British boat rescues migrants trying to cross Channel

  • British border officials have picked up 34 people who were trying to cross the English Channel in a small boat
  • The Home Office said the passengers are thought to be migrants and their nationalities were not known yet

LONDON: A British boat rescued 34 migrants crossing the Channel aboard a small motorised boat on Monday, Britain's interior ministry said.
"Today Border Force responded to an incident in the Channel involving a small boat containing 34 people," the ministry said in a statement.
"The group were brought to Dover and have been transferred to immigration officials for interview," it added, saying that men, women and children were on board and that three men were arrested on suspicion of immigration offences.
French authorities earlier said that "a fishing boat gave the alarm shortly after 8:00 am (0700 GMT)" after spotting the boat off the tip of northern France.
French navy, police and customs launched a helicopter, a tug boat and three fast vessels, while sea rescue services also tried to rescue the migrants.
By the time they reached the migrants' location, however, "they had crossed over to the English side" of the Channel where they were picked up by a British vessel, said the regional authority in northern France.
Two British Border Force cutters and a coastal patrol vessel were involved in the rescue, according to UK authorities.
Some 500 people -- most of them over the last two months of 2018 -- attempted to cross the Channel to Britain last year, compared with just 13 known attempts in 2017.
French interior ministry figures show 276 people successfully reached British waters last year.
London in December dispatched a navy ship to help coastguard boats watch over the 21 miles (33 kilometres) of sea that separate France and Britain at its narrowest point.
France also responded by announcing broader surveillance measures in early January.
The number of Channel crossings was just a tiny fraction of the 55,756 successful attempts made across the Mediterranean to Spain that were recorded by the UN's refugee agency in 2018.