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Top Taliban prisoners including Anas Haqqani to be swapped for American, Australian captives

12 Nov 2019 Kabul Now

From left to right: Anas Haqqani and Hafiz Abdul Rashid

Addressing the nation in a televised message today, November 12, President Ashraf Ghani confirmed that three top Taliban commanders namely, Anas Haqqani, Hafeez Abdul Rashid, and Haji Mali Khan, will conditionally be freed in exchange for release of two professors of the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) who are captive in Taliban prison.  

The professors slated for the swap are US national Kevin King, 60, and 48-year old Australian citizen Timothy Weeks who were abducted by the Taliban in August 2016 from an area close to the university compound in Kabul city.

Mr. Ghani assured the nation that the release of the Taliban prisoners will not intensify the group’s fighting against the government while describing their release as a ‘difficult but necessary’ decision.

This comes a day after Pakistan’s ISI chief, Gen. Faiz Hameed, and the country’s deputy foreign minister Suhail Mahmood accompanied by a high profile delegation paid a visit to Kabul and met with the Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib.

Kabir Haqmal, spokesperson for Afghanistan National Security Council, said in a tweet that the two sides discussed how to heal relations between Islamabad and Kabul. He, however, hesitated to comment whether the top Pakistani officials had played some role in release of the Taliban commanders or not.

Who is Anas Haqqani?

Anas Haqqani is the brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani who is currently heading Haqqani Network—a brutal faction of the Taliban which has carried out most of the complex attacks across Afghanistan.

Sediq Sediqqi, President Ghani’s spokesperson, earlier in late October said the Afghan people will not allow the Afghan government to release Anas Haqqani as he is the killer of the Afghan people. “Anas Haqqani is the red line of the Afghan government and people,” he was quoted as saying.

Haqqani network was founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani—father of Sirajuddin Haqqani and Anas Haqqani—who died in September 2018.

Citing Afghan officials, the Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported on Monday night, November 11, that Anas Haqqani was an information technology expert who played a key role in the network’s ‘strategic decision-making’ and fundraising.

Hafiz Abdul Rashid is the brother of Mohammad Nabi Omari who is currently a key member of the Taliban political office in Qatar. Previously an inmate in Guantanamo bay, in Cuba, Nabi Omari, who joined the Taliban negotiating team in late 2018, was freed from the bay in exchange for American captive Army Sgt. Bow Bergdahl, who was imprisoned by the group.

According to the RFE/RL, operatives of the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), arrested Anas Haqqani and Omari in the eastern Khost province in 2014. The then director of the NDS, Rahmatullah Nabil, in an exclusive interview with TOLOnews on September 05, said that Anas Haqqani was arrested outside of Afghanistan in a joint operation in which Afghan NDS operatives played the key part.

According to the Associated Press, Anas Haqqani was arrested in 2014 in Bahrain and then handed over to the Afghan government.

Haji Mali Khan, who is Anas Haqqani’s uncle, was reportedly arrested by U.S. forces in the eastern Paktika province in 2011.

Efforts for the release of the American and Australian captives intensified by the US after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan during his July visit of Washington promised US President Donald Trump that he would do his best for release of the AUAF teachers.

The Associated Press reported on November 01 reported that Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was in Kabul trying to barter a prisoner exchange involving the two abducted AUAF’s professors.

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