The ice-breaking meeting between Afghan Taliban and US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad finally showed results after a prisoner swap agreement was compiled with the release of at least three Indian engineers under Taliban custody since 2018.
The Afghan Taliban have confirmed that it has freed at least three Indian hostages in exchange for the release of at least 11 Taliban members including important leaders. The freed Afghan Taliban includes prominent leaders Sheikh Abdul Rahim and Maulvi Abdur Rashid.
Both these Taliban leaders have served as governors of Kunar and Nimroz provinces during the Taliban administration before the US-led intervention in 2001.
The prisoner swap was done in the early hours of Sunday (October 6, 2019) at an undisclosed location.
Reliable sources have confirmed that the Afghan Taliban members were freed from the Bagram airbase by the US forces, implying that the prisoner swap deal was done between the Taliban and the United States.
The release of Indian prisoners is being confirmed by the Afghan Taliban but is not being verified by the Afghan government.
On the other hand, the Indian government has also not been notified of the release of Indian engineers. The Indian government sources maintain that they are in touch with the Afghanistan government as reports of the release have brought to their notice.
We have seen these reports. We continue to remain in touch with Afghanistan authorities on this matter. Will update if there are any further developments, a source said.
Seven Indian engineers working for a power plant in Afghanistan’s northern Baghlan Province were kidnapped in May 2018. One of the hostages was released in March.
With the Afghanistan government unaware of the development, it seems that the swap was a result of the Afghan Taliban meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad.
Sources say that Khalilzad had asked the Taliban to release at least five foreign prisoners including three Indian engineers, one American and one Australian national in exchange for release of the Taliban leaders and members.
The release of Indian engineers is yet to be confirmed by the Afghan authorities.
Sources say that the Indian engineers may be in the custody of the US forces and may be handed over to the Afghan authorities in the coming hours for the return.
For now, their release is yet to be confirmed by the Afghan authorities to India through diplomatic channels.