The Taliban has demanded the release of 80 prisoners, including Anas Haqqani and Hafiz Rashid--two leaders of the Haqqani Network--for a swap with two US professors, sources close to the Taliban said on Wednesday.
The sources said a prisoner exchange would offer a restart to the US and Taliban peace talks that were halted by US President Donald Trump about two months ago.
The US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is trying to secure the release of Kevin King, an American, and Timothy Weeks, an Australian, who were abducted in Kabul in 2016 while employed at the American University of Afghanistan.
The sources believe that there is some disagreement over the release of Haqqani leaders Anas Haqqani and Hafiz Rashid. Both were captured in 2014 outside Afghanistan while traveling in the Persian Gulf.
“Important people like Hafiz Rashid and 80 others are war commanders and are important people. I think the release of these people will show the government of Afghanistan’s goodwill, and be a gesture for peace,” said the head of the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan, Sayed Hamed Gailani, who met with Khalilzad in Kabul earlier this week.
Former Afghan military official Jawid Kohistani said “Overall, these people are important and their release will not only be a threat to Afghanistan but a threat to the region.”
At a Tuesday press conference, National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib mentioned recent meetings between President Ghani and Zalmay Khalilzad over the release of the two US professors.
“Khalilzad’s aim in traveling to Kabul was to discuss the two US professors who are in the custody of the Haqqani group; nothing was discussed about peace during his visit with President Ghani,” Mohib said, adding that “The US is seeking our cooperation regarding the release of the professors, and we are ready to cooperate.”