ISLAMABAD - A group of 11 key Taliban prisoners is reported to have been released from the joint Afghan-U.S. Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan in exchange for three Indian hostages.
Insurgent sources said Sunday the swap took place in the northern province of Baghlan and two former Taliban provincial governors were among those freed. Taliban men could be seen being welcomed by insurgent fighters in video images released via social media.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid when asked for his comments on the reported swap told VOA “I have not received the details. I am trying to get them and will share with you.”
The Indian hostages were abducted last year along with four other countrymen while they were working on a project in Baghlan for the construction of a power generation station. One of them managed to escape and returned to India this past May while the fate of the rest was not known.
Many of the districts in the troubled Afghan province are either controlled or hotly contested by the Taliban.
U.S.-Taliban Meetings in Pakistan
Sunday's reported prisoner exchange followed last week’s informal meetings between American and Taliban negotiators in neighboring Pakistan.
It was not immediately known, however, whether the prisoner swap was an outcome of the contacts, the first since early last month when U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly called off the year-long dialogue with the Taliban.
Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Idrees Zaman, while commenting on the Taliban’s visit to Pakistan, said on Saturday the insurgents were discussing with U.S, envoys the release of two Western hostages and not the resumption of the stalled dialogue.
Zaman was referring to an American professor and his Australian colleague who were kidnapped more than three years ago in Kabul. Kevin King, 60, and Timothy Weeks, 48, from Australia were teaching at the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) in the capital city before gunmen took them hostage near the campus in August 2016.
Neither U.S. nor insurgent officials publicly acknowledged the two sides held meetings during their last week’s stay in Pakistan, though officials of the host government had confirmed such meetings would take place.
American chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, deputy Taliban chief for political affairs, led their respective delegations at “several” interactions in Islamabad, according to insurgent sources.
General Scott Miller, the U.S. commander of NATO-led foreign troops in Afghanistan, also accompanied Khalilzad at the meetings, the sources said.
The U.S. embassy in Islamabad had insisted while confirming Khalilzad’s presence in the country that he was visiting for bilateral “consultations” with Pakistani officials.
U.S. and Taliban negotiators were said to be on the verge of signing a peace agreement after nine long rounds of negotiations hosted by Qatar before Trump declared the process “dead” citing continued insurgent deadly attacks on Afghan civilians and American troops in Afghanistan.