KABUL: The Taliban have released three Indian engineers who were kidnapped in Afghanistan last year, Taliban sources said on Monday, as part of an apparent prisoner swap that saw 11 insurgents released from Afghan jails.

However, according to AP, the release of Indian engineers has yet to be confirmed by New Delhi or the Afghan government.

In Jalalabad, officials told Reuters that a suicide blast killed 10 people and injured 27 others.

In May 2018, the Taliban seized six Indian engineers who were working on a power plant project in Baghlan in northern Afghanistan, along with their Afghan driver.

Taliban officials in several different locations told AFP on condition of anonymity that three of the engineers were released in Baghlan province Sunday.

The whereabouts of others was not immediately clear.

Among the Taliban figures freed were the group’s shadow governors for northeastern Kunar province and southwestern Nimroz province, Sheikh Abdul Rahim and Maulvi Rashid, the officials said.

Details about the swap, and who coordinated it, were also unclear, with the Afghan government, the Indian embassy in Kabul and the US military in Afghanistan all declining comment.

The apparent prisoner swap comes after a senior Pakistani official told AFP that US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad last week met with Taliban officials in Pakistan, though he stressed it did not represent a formal resumption of peace talks between Washington and the insurgents.

AFP was unable to verify the claim, and it was not known if the releases were related to that exchange.

Mr Khalilzad met with the Taliban’s top negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the hard-line Taliban movement and head of a Taliban delegation to the Pakistani capital. 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 Mr Khalilzad was in the Pakistani capital to follow up on talks he held in September in New York with Pakistani officials, including Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The US insisted Mr Khalilzad was not in Pakistan to restart US-Taliban 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 President Donald Trump declared that the talks were “dead,” blaming an uptick in violence by the Taliban that included the killing of a US soldier.

Besides, the suicide bomb targeted a minibus of recruits for the Afghan security forces in the eastern city of Jalalabad on Monday, killing at least 10 people and injuring 27, local government sources said.

The bomb detonated in a rickshaw-like vehicle, Attaullah Khogyani, the spokesman for provincial governor of Nangarhar, said. Casualties included recruits and civilians, including a child, local sources said.

Some of the wounded were in critical condition, Sohrab Qaderi, a member of the Nangarhar provincial council, said.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but militant Islamic State group has carried a string of suicide bombings and attacks on government offices, schools, and aid groups in recent years in Jalalabad, Nangarhar’s main city.

Published in Dawn, October 8th, 2019

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