Tue, 10 Dec 2019

The fate of a deal to exchange three Taliban prisoners held in Afghanistan for two Western hostages the militant group is holding remained unclear, three days after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced the plan.

The deal was seen by the Afghan government as a key move in securing direct talks with the Taliban, which has so far refused to engage with what it calls a 'puppet' regime in Kabul.

But Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on November 15 that the three Taliban prisoners to be freed did not show up at an exchange site that had been agreed upon and were still in custody.

They were to be exchanged for two professors of the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul who were abducted in August 2016: U.S. citizen Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks.

Mujahid said the Taliban was still holding King, 60, and Weeks, 48.

The reasons for the delay were not clear.

Speaking on November 14 at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, Afghan first lady Rula Ghani said: 'It didn't work."

"I'm not quite sure why, but probably some party did not do what they promised they were going to do. And so unfortunately, the two professors might not be released,' she added.

Reuters quoted an Afghan government official as saying the swap had been postponed, without elaborating.

The agency also cited Taliban sources as saying the three Taliban prisoners were due to be flown to Qatar but were returned to the jail in Bagram, outside Kabul.

They "will be sent to Qatar under U.S. supervision," an unnamed Afghan official told RFE/RL.

The three Taliban prisoners to be released included Anas Haqqani -- the younger brother of Sirajjuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network - and two other prominent militants: Hafiz Rashid Omari and Haji Milli Khan, officials said.

The U.S. ambassador to Kabul, John Bass, initially welcomed Ghani's announcement, but officials have given no further information since.

The Haqqani network, known for carrying out brutal attacks in Afghanistan, is part of the Taliban group.

It is believed to be based in Pakistan.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, dpa, and AFP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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