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Prisoner swap deal in Afghanistan has been suspended: Taliban officials

15 November, 2019

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A prisoner swap deal in Afghanistan has been suspended and Taliban officials say their prisoners have not been released from the Bagram detention center.

Two foreign professors, who are held hostage by the Taliban, would be exchanged with three Taliban leaders including Anas Haqqani, brother of Taliban deputy chief Siraj ud Din Haqqani.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced on Tuesday to release Anas Haqqani and two other leaders from the Bagram prison under a prisoner swap deal that he hoped will help in the peace process.

He said Taliban would also release American University of Afghanistan’s professors – Kevin King from the US and Timothy Weeks from Australia, who Taliban had kidnapped in August 2016 from Kabul.

Anas Haqqani and Hafiz Rasheed had been arrested Bahrain airport on way back from Qatar, where they had gone to meet Taliban leaders freed from Guantanamo. They were later handed over to authorities in Afghanistan.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has confirmed that their prisoners have not been released from the Bagram prison. Afghan government and the US have not yet commented about suspension of the deal.

A Taliban official from the group’s prisoners commission said that the three prisoners were brought back to their cell at the Bagram.

It is unclear as to why the release of the Taliban and the foreign professors has been delayed. There was no word on the delay.

Anas Haqqani in an audio message, which Taliban sources shared with the media, said that he is packing as he had received a message about his and others’ release.

The release of the Taliban detainees could have been delayed as the Afghan government wanted the Taliban should first set free the two professors. This shows the mistrust between the two dies.

President Ghani said that the swap deal would lead to direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. However, Taliban did not comment on Ghani’s speech.

A source says the US did not want publicity of the Taliban release. Taliban posted photographs of the three detainees on social media that were viral in minutes.

Criticism on the swap deal by Afghans in the social media could also be one of the reasons.

The sources said freed Taliban were scheduled to be flown out of Afghanistan to Qatar, where the Taliban have political headquarters, on Tuesday evening.

Abdul Rashid, is the brother of Nabi Omari, a senior member of the negotiation team and was among the five Taliban leaders freed from the Guantanamo detention center in 2014. 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. They were later handed over to authorities in Afghanistan.

Mali Khan, who will also be freed, is the maternal uncle of Anas Haqqani and was captured by the US forces in Afghanistan after their invasion in 2001.

Taliban leadership had included Anas Haqqani in the 14-member negotiation team in February and Taliban sources say he will join the team in Qatar.

American special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had been working on the prisoners swap deal as part of renewed efforts for the resumption of the stalled peace process with the Taliban.

President Donald Trump had called off the process in early September following the killing of an American soldier in a Taliban-claimed attack in Kabul.

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