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.


‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Afghan envoy Daudzai

Updated 09 July 2020

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Afghan envoy Daudzai

  • Pakistan played positive role in US-Taliban peace talks, says diplomat

PESHAWAR: Afghanistan’s newly appointed special envoy for Pakistan has had put “mending political relations” between the two estranged nations as one of his top priorities.

Mohammed Umer Daudzai, on Tuesday said that his primary focus would be to ensure lasting peace in Afghanistan and maintain strong ties with Pakistan, especially after Islamabad’s key role in the Afghan peace process earlier this year.

In an exclusive interview, the diplomat told Arab News: “Two areas have been identified to focus on with renewed vigor, such as lasting peace in Afghanistan and cementing Pak-Afghan bilateral ties in economic, social, political and other areas.”

In order to achieve these aims, he said, efforts would be intensified “to mend political relations” between the neighboring countries.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,600-kilometer porous border and have been at odds for years. Bonds between them have been particularly strained due to a deep mistrust and allegations of cross-border infiltration by militants.

Kabul has blamed Islamabad for harboring Taliban leaders after they were ousted from power in 2001. But Pakistan has denied the allegations and, instead, accused Kabul of providing refuge to anti-Pakistan militants – a claim rejected by Afghanistan.

Daudzai said his immediate priority would be to focus on “political reconciliation” between the two countries, especially in the backdrop of a historic peace agreement signed in February this year when Pakistan played a crucial role in facilitating a troop withdrawal deal between the US and the Taliban to end the decades-old Afghan conflict. “Afghanistan needs political reconciliation which the Afghan government has already been working on to achieve bottom-up harmony,” he added.

Daudzai’s appointment Monday by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took place days after Islamabad chose Mohammed Sadiq as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special representative for Afghanistan.

Reiterating the need to maintain strong bilateral ties with all of its neighbors, Daudzai said Pakistan’s role was of paramount importance to Afghanistan.

“Pakistan has a positive role in the US-Taliban peace talks, and now Islamabad could play a highly significant role in the imminent intra-Afghan talks. I will explore all options for a level-playing field for the success of all these initiatives,” he said, referring in part to crucial peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban which were delayed due to a stalemate in a prisoner exchange program – a key condition of the Feb. 29 peace deal.

Under the agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and around 1,000 government prisoners were to be freed by March 10. So far, Afghanistan has released 3,000 prisoners, while the Taliban have freed 500. Daudzai said that while dates had yet to be finalized, the intra-Afghan dialogue could begin “within weeks.”

He added: “A date for intra-Afghan talks hasn’t been identified yet because there is a stalemate on prisoners’ release. But I am sure they (the talks) will be kicked off within weeks.”

Experts say Daudzai’s appointment could give “fresh momentum” to the stalled process and revitalize ties between the two estranged neighbors.

“Mohammed Sadiq’s appointment...could lead Kabul-Islamabad to a close liaison and better coordination,” Irfanullah Khan, an MPhil scholar and expert on Afghan affairs, told Arab News.

Daudzai said that he would be visiting Islamabad to kickstart the process as soon as the coronavirus disease-related travel restrictions were eased.

Prior to being appointed as the special envoy, he had served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan from April 2011 to August 2013.

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