Ghani agrees to prisoner exchange deal with Taliban

The three Taliban prisoners that would be released include Anas Haqqani, above, who was seized in 2014. (AFP)
Updated 13 November 2019

Ghani agrees to prisoner exchange deal with Taliban

  • Decision to free 3 insurgents in return for 2 US lecturers ‘hard but necessary’

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Tuesday that his government would free three Taliban prisoners in return for two university professors held hostage by the group since 2016. Addressing the media, Ghani said his decision was part of efforts to engage in direct talks with the Taliban and end the country’s decades-old conflict.
American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks were in a critical condition, he added. Both were abducted outside the American University of Afghanistan, in Kabul, where they were lecturers.
Ghani described his decision to release the three Taliban prisoners as “hard but necessary,” and said he hoped the move would deter “intensified attacks.”
He added: “In consultations with our international partners, especially the US, we have adopted a mechanism and approach to make sure the release of these three men wouldn’t reinforce the (front) lines of the enemy and lead to intensified attacks by them.”
One of the three Taliban prisoners set to be released is Anas Haqqani, son of the founder of the Haqqani network — the Taliban’s mighty military wing which has been accused of high-profile attacks on foreign and government forces.

HIGHLIGHT

One of the three Taliban prisoners set to be released is Anas Haqqani, son of the founder of the Haqqani network — the Taliban’s mighty military wing which has been accused of high-profile attacks.

Until recently, government officials had insisted that freeing Haqqani was akin to crossing a red line for Ghani’s government which had been excluded from several rounds of talks between the Taliban and US diplomats in Qatar last year.
The meetings had been taking place until September this year when US President Donald Trump abruptly declared the negotiations “dead.”
News of the exchange deal follows an unofficial resumption of talks between the Taliban and US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who in the past had discussed the swapping of prisoners and visited Kabul and Pakistan in recent weeks to accelerate the process.
Some local media reported that the three Taliban prisoners had already been freed in Kabul and were flying to Qatar. However, government officials refused to comment on the matter when contacted by Arab News.
There was no reaction from the Taliban to Ghani’s announcement, which comes amid a deepening crisis related to a deadlock over election results.
Ghani is a frontrunner and — despite his objection to the secret talks between the Taliban and Khalilzad — has put peace negotiations with the Taliban as his priority if he wins the polls.


New Zealand volcano spews ash plume in eruption, several injured

Updated 15 min 7 sec ago

New Zealand volcano spews ash plume in eruption, several injured

  • As many as 100 people were in the vicinity when the eruption began
  • The White Island volcano is one of New Zealand’s most active
WELLINGTON: A volcano erupted in New Zealand on Monday, spewing a plume of ash thousands of feet into the air, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying tourists were among several people unaccounted for as emergency services mounted a rescue operation.
As many as 100 people were in the vicinity when the eruption began about 2:11 p.m. (0111 GMT) on White Island, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the east coast of North Island, authorities said, sending up smoke visible from the mainland.
“We believe 100 people were on or around the island,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference, adding that a rescue operation had begun, although it was too early to confirm any injuries or deaths.
“A number of people are reportedly injured and are now being transported to shore,” she added. “It does appear to be a very significant issue...particularly the scale of people affected, at this stage.”
Many of those affected could be tourists, she said.
“I’m not sure if these people were on the island or near it, but there was definitely one group out there and they definitely needed medical care,” said Judy Turner, the mayor of the coastal town of Whakatāne, near White Island.
“There were some injuries and the focus is on getting these injured people back safely and to get them to a hospital.”
There seemed to be no danger for people in coastal areas farther away, she added.
The island’s immediate surroundings were hazardous because of the eruption, the National Emergency Management Agency said in a statement, adding that falling ash might affect some areas.
The “short-lived eruption” threw an ash plume about 12,000 ft (3,658 m) high, New Zealand’s geoscience agency GNS Science said in a statement, but added there were no current signs of an escalation.
The White Island volcano is one of New Zealand’s most active.