WASHINGTON: The United States sees this week’s prisoner swap as a hopeful sign for a political settlement of 40 years of blood-letting in Afghanistan, says US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.
On Tuesday, three high-ranking Taliban prisoners were swapped for two Western professors who had been held hostage by the insurgent group since their abduction in 2016.
The swap happened hours after Secretary Pompeo telephoned Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and reviewed with him the planned release, the State Department said.
In a statement issued by his office on Wednesday, the chief US diplomat hoped that this goodwill gesture would pave the way for more talks on a peace deal.
“We see these developments as hopeful signs that the Afghan war, a terrible and costly conflict that has lasted 40 years, may soon conclude through a political settlement,” he said.
Mr Pompeo clarified that he was not alone in interpreting this as a positive development as the Taliban too had “indicated that the release of the two professors is intended as a goodwill gesture, which the United States welcomes.”
Hoping for more prisoner exchanges soon, he said: “Additionally, we welcome the Taliban’s impending release of 10 Afghan prisoners, and the Afghan government’s release of 3 Taliban prisoners.”
Mr Pompeo noted that during the past two years the Afghan government had taken several steps for “advancing” the goal of peace through negotiations while simultaneously working to strengthen and reform Afghanistan’s security forces.
President Ghani extended an offer to talk to the Taliban without preconditions and initiated a ceasefire during the Eid-ul-Fitr in 2018, which the Taliban reciprocated, he said.
“The public’s grateful reaction to that interruption in the violence dramatically illustrated their overwhelming desire for peace,” said Mr Pompeo, while noting that many Afghan politicians put their political differences aside and did not use these humanitarian gestures for personal political gain.
“Along with a reduction of violence in Kabul during the past few days, the above developments give us hope for the success of intra-Afghan peace negotiations, which the United States stands ready to support,” he added.
In a separate statement on Tuesday afternoon, the White House said that “the Trump Administration will continue to work to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used to launch terrorist attacks against the United States and our allies.”
The United States and Taliban have already held nine rounds of talks in Doha, Qatar, since early last year. In September, they came close to a peace deal when US President Donald Trump invited President Ghani and senior Taliban leaders to a presidential resort near Washington for signing the agreement.
However, President Trump revoked the invitation hours before their expected arrival in Washington, saying that he was doing so because the Taliban had continued attacking US and Afghan positions in Afghanistan despite the talks.
So far, the United States has held direct talks with the Taliban, without involving the Afghan government, as the Taliban desired.
Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2019