Taliban say Afghanistan has freed several of its prisoners

Published October 7, 2019
In this May 28, 2019, file photo, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban group's top political leader, left, and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the Taliban's chief negotiator, talk to each other during a meeting in Moscow, Russia. — AP
In this May 28, 2019, file photo, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban group's top political leader, left, and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the Taliban's chief negotiator, talk to each other during a meeting in Moscow, Russia. — AP

Taliban officials say several of the group's members have been freed from Afghan jails, including former shadow governors, the first move of its kind since a peace deal that seemed imminent was declared “dead” and just days after a United States envoy met top Taliban leaders in the Pakistani capital.

The officials also said the Taliban have released three Indian engineers they had been holding, though that has yet to be confirmed by New Delhi or the Afghan government.

The Taliban officials spoke on Sunday on condition of anonymity because they were not cleared by their leadership to speak to the media.

Shadow governors in northeastern Kunar province and southwestern Nimroz province, Sheikh Abdul Rahim and Maulvi Rashid, were among the Taliban freed, the officials said.

The Taliban have established a shadow government throughout the country and in areas under their control they have even established courts.

The Associated Press contacted both Afghanistan's defence department and the president's office but they declined to comment.

US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met last week with the Taliban's top negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the hardline Taliban movement and head of a Taliban delegation that visited Islamabad. The Taliban said they were in Islamabad to discuss the condition of roughly 1.5 million Afghan refugees living in the city.

US officials said Khalilzad was in Islamabad to follow up on talks he held in September in New York with Pakistani officials, including Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The US insisted Khalilzad was not in Pakistan to restart peace talks — at least not yet.

But the Taliban and Pakistan confirmed the two sides met.

The meeting is significant and the first Khalilzad has held with the Taliban since last month when US President Donald Trump declared a deal that seemed done, but for the signing, "dead", blaming an uptick in violence by the Taliban, that included the death of a US soldier.

Still, Trump said he wants to exit Afghanistan, ending America's longest war, and withdraw its 14,000 troops. He has criticised the Afghan government for not doing more to defend Afghanistan and relying on US and Nato troops to police the country.

While details of Khalilzad's meeting with the Taliban have been sketchy, there have been reports that the two sides did discuss prisoner exchanges, with the freedom of two professors — an American and an Australian — of the American University in the Afghan capital featuring in the discussions.

American professor Kevin King, and Australian, Timothy Weeks were kidnapped in Kabul on August 7, 2016. The Taliban have released videos of the two men and have said their conditions have deteriorated.

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