Pakistan facilitated release of hostages by Taliban, says PM


Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to the Afghan peace process and said that the country facilitated the release of American and Australian hostages held by the Taliban.

In a post on Twitter, the premier said that Pakistan welcomes the efforts of the international community for bringing peace in war-torn country.

“Pak welcomes release of Profs Kevin King & Timothy Weeks in Afghanistan. We appreciate steps taken by all involved to make it possible. As part of the int community working to bring peace & end the suffering of the Afghan people, Pak has fully supported & facilitated this release,” he wrote.

He also expressed hope that this step would boost the confidence of all parties involved in the Afghan peace process.

“As part of its policy of supporting initiatives for a negotiated political settlement of the Afghan conflict. We hope this step gives a boost of confidence to all parties involved to re-engage in the peace process. Pakistan remains committed to facilitating this peace process,” he added.

Earlier in the day, three Taliban commanders released by the Afghan government flew to Qatar for a swap with American and an Australian hostage held by the insurgents since their abduction in 2016.

The whereabouts of the two hostages — American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks — were not immediately known.

The three Taliban commanders are Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of the Taliban’s deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who also heads the fearsome Haqqani network.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani a week ago announced the conditional release of the Taliban figures, saying at a press event broadcast live on state television that it was a very hard decision he felt he had to make in the interest of the Afghan people.

King and Weeks, the two captives held by the Taliban were abducted in 2016 outside the American University in Kabul where they both work as teachers.

The following year, the Taliban released two videos showing the captives. A January 2017 video showed them appearing pale and gaunt. In the later video, King and Weeks looked healthier and said a deadline for their release was set for June 16 that year.

Both said they are being treated well by the Taliban but that they remain prisoners and appealed to their governments to help set them free. It was impossible to know whether they were forced to speak.

Subsequently, United States officials said that American forces had launched a rescue mission to free the two, but the captives were not found at the raided location.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien made separate calls to Ghani on Monday to discuss the prisoners’ release, the Afghan president’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said.

The release and swap were intended to try to restart talks to end Afghanistan’s 18-year war and allow for the eventual withdrawal of US troops.

The US had been close to an agreement in September with the Taliban but a fresh wave of violence in the Afghan capital that killed an American soldier brought talks and an impending deal to a grinding halt.

The agreement called for direct talks between the Taliban and Kabul administration, as well as other prominent Afghans, to find a negotiated end to the war and set out a roadmap for what a post-war Afghanistan would look like.

Ghani, in his discussions with Pompeo and O’Brien, said he wanted a reduction in violence and an all-out cease-fire, his spokesman said.

According to a US State Department statement on Tuesday, Pompeo told Ghani that Washington was committed to working closely together to address violence if the president’s decision does not produce the intended results.