President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday confirmed that Anas Haqqani, Haji Mali Khan and Hafiz Rashid, three top Haqqani Network commanders, have been conditionally released in exchange for the release of two foreign university professors who were kidnapped by the Haqqani Network in 2016.
Speaking at a televised press conference, Ghani said the negotiations was made in close cooperation with the U.S. in order to pave the way for face-to-face negotiations with the Taliban.
Ghani said the health of the two professors has been deteriorating while in the custody of the terrorists.
Kevin King, 61, from the U.S., and Timothy Weeks, 49, from Australia, were professors at the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) in Kabul.
The Afghan President added that the decision to conditionally release the prisoners was tough, but important and a humanitarian gesture.
He added that the decision was made after consulting with Afghanistan’s international allies, especially the United States of America.
“We have said that to reach a peace with dignity we have to pay this bitter price, but we will not sacrifice the rights of the people, our democratic principles, or women’s rights and achievements,” Ghani said.
The AUAF, in a statement, said it “is encouraged to hear reports of the possible release of our two colleagues, Kevin King and Timothy Weeks.”
“While AUAF is not part of these discussions, we continue to urge the immediate and safe return of our faculty members who have been held in captivity, away from their friends and families, for more than three years,” the AUAF statement said.
Anas Haqqani is the brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani who is the leader of Haqqani network and Deputy Leader of the Taliban insurgent group. Mali Khan Zadran is a brother of the Haqqani Network’s Founder. Hafiz Rashid is the brother of Mullah Nabi Omari, a Guantanamo prisoner who was exchanged along other four men for captured U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl in 2014.
The announcement of prisoner swap comes a day after the Chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) visited Kabul and held talks with the Afghan National Security Advisor.