ISLAMABAD - Following extensive round of covert talks, Taliban and the US administration have finally agreed to swap prisoners, sources told TheNation on Sunday, adding that announcement of the agreement was not possible at this point.
Sources said the US-Taliban talks started on 18th September last year, however, media could only get to know about these negotiations in the last week of January this year. “As a part of this deal, US administration will hand over five top leaders of Afghan Taliban currently languishing in Guantanamo Bay to government of Qatar. In return, Taliban will release two of nine soldiers of Nato forces, who were captured by Taliban last year,” sources said.
Islamabad based diplomatic sources also confirmed prisoner swap deal, however, declined to go into further details.
“Yes, it is true that both the US administration and Taliban have reached a settlement to swap prisoners. According to the deal, five Taliban leaders will be shifted to Doha (Qatar) until 3rd week of April. Government of Qatar will be taking care of them. While, the US administration will get hold of only two soldiers of Nato forces who were captured by the Taliban,” an Islamabad-based diplomat told TheNation on condition of anonymity, adding, that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence was in the knowledge of this deal.
Sources said govt of Qatar had played vital role in bringing Taliban and the USA on the table for negotiations which started in September last year, and finally striking a deal to swap the prisoner. According to sources, the Taliban leaders who will be released include Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, a former interior minister in the Taliban govt, Noorullah Noori, a former governor in northern Afghanistan; and former Taliban army commander Mullah Fazl Akhund. Two other Taliban leaders who can be freed include, Abdul Haq Waseeq, Mohammad Nabi.
Sources further said the deal was finalised until the government of Qatar assured the Americans of keeping a strict eye on those Taliban figures and providing them extensive security. “The US has made it clear to head of the Qatar government that Taliban prisoners going to be freed are prominent Taliban figures, they are not ordinary people. However, the deal has been struck following Qatar government’s guarantee,” sources claimed. When contacted by TheNation on Sunday in the evening, Hekmat Khalil Karzai, director at Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies Afghanistan said there had been reports of talks going on between the US administration and Taliban but he was not sure if they had reached a settlement.
“I know there were discussions between the Taliban and the US on prisoners but not sure if they have reached an agreement to swap. There are, however, reports that indicate some form of final agreement. Sadly, I have not gotten the confirmation. I can check and let you know,” Hekmat Khalil Karzai told TheNation on Sunday.
It is pertinent to mention here that possible deal of swapping of prisoners between Taliban and the USA was first reported by International media in January this year. Higher official of Obama administration, including Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, told reporters in January this year that a deal of ‘prisoners swapping’ was pending.
She made it loud and clear that ‘pending deal’ to move senior Taliban figures from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Qatar was part of a trade for the return of a soldier who was a part of Nato forces and languishing in Taliban custody.
The Obama administration’s plan to move five top Taliban officials to live under house arrest in Qatar has been widely reported but never openly discussed by administration officials.
Interestingly, officials of Foreign Affairs Ministry of Pakistan declined to comment on the issue when contacted to get first-hand knowledge on the issue.