Hope renewed for Afghan peace deal as Kabul ‘frees 9 Haqqani militants’


–Report claims released militants include Anas Haqqani, younger brother of Haqqani Network chief Sirajuddin

–Release of captured militants was reportedly a key demand of Taliban in Pakistan-brokered talks with US in Abu Dhabi


The Afghan government on Thursday reportedly freed nine members of the Haqqani militant network, including the younger brother of the faction’s chief Sirajuddin Haqqani, giving hope of a possible peace deal between the militants and US and Afghan governments, according to a media report.

The report claimed that the Afghan intelligence agency, National Directorate of Security (NDS), has released the inmates, including Anas Haqqani, who was arrested by the Afghan intelligence on October 14, 2014 from Afghanistan’s Khost province and was handed the death sentence on Aug 29, 2016.

According to the report, it is believed that the recent release is part of a prisoner exchange deal agreed between the two sides during the recent parleys arranged by Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) earlier this week.

Pakistan Today is making efforts to confirm this information independently.

On Monday, representatives from the Afghan Taliban met officials from the US in Abu Dhabi in another bid to find shared ground to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan. The meeting also included representatives from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE.

The crucial Islamabad-brokered talks are said to have made progress despite the insurgent group insistence that negotiations only focussed on withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan.

It was the first time that the Taliban’s both military and political leaders attended a negotiation as previously the Taliban were only represented by their political office in Qatar. The presence of the Taliban leaders like Mullah Amir Mutaqi, Qari Yahya, Mullah Mohibullah Hamas and Mullah Abbas Akhund at the UAE talks suggests seriousness of the insurgent group towards the latest round of discussions facilitated by Pakistan.

“Had productive meetings in the UAE with Afghan and international partners to promote intra-Afghan dialogue towards ending the conflict in #Afghanistan,” said, in a tweet, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, who led the US side at the talks.

After conclusion of the talks, Khalilzad flew to Islamabad and met Pakistan’s army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

“Just met with #Pakistan leaders to update them on the state of play following our meetings in the UAE. Looking forward to meeting Afghan leaders in Kabul, #Afghanistan tonight,” the US special envoy said before departing for Kabul.

The military’s media wing said that Khalilzad appreciated Pakistan’s efforts for Afghan peace process while Gen Qamar reiterated that peace in Afghanistan is important for Pakistan and assured continued efforts for bringing peace and stability in the region.

In a separate statement, the UAE government said it hosted the US-Taliban reconciliation talks in Abu Dhabi, with the participation of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. “The two-day Afghan reconciliation conference fructified in tangible results that are positive for all parties concerned,” the statement said.

According to the statement, another round of talks would be held in Abu Dhabi to complete the Afghanistan reconciliation process. “Saudi Arabia and the UAE extend their thanks to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani as well as the US, Pakistani and Taliban delegations for their effective participation and support for ensuring the success of the conference,” according to the UAE’s state-run news agency .

No further details have been available as to what exactly transpired in the Abu Dhabi meetings.

The Taliban spokesperson, however, claimed that discussions focused on the complete withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan. The spokesperson dismissed reports that any proposal was under consideration regarding the setting up of interim government in Afghanistan or a 6-month ceasefire.

Many observers believe that the Taliban statement may just be meant for its foot soldiers and elements who are not in favour of striking a peace deal with the US or Afghan government.

The latest push for a peace deal came after President Donald Trump wrote a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan, seeking Pakistan’s help for the negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict.