Afghan prisoner swap postponed, says Taliban spokesman

Recent photo of Anas Haqqani, a senior member of the Taliban's Haqqani network and younger brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, deputy leader of the Taliban and chief of The Haqqani network. (Photo supplied)
Updated 16 November 2019

Afghan prisoner swap postponed, says Taliban spokesman

  • Zabihullah Mujahid tells Arab News the Americans had yet to free Taliban detainees
  • The Afghan insurgent group is holding two university professors of American and Australian descent since 2016

ISLAMABAD: Afghan Taliban Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Friday a prisoner exchange between the United States and the Taliban did not take place since the Americans had not released three Taliban leaders.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced on Tuesday that three Taliban prisoners were going to be released in return for two academics of American and Australian descent who taught at the American University of Afghanistan.
The Taliban have kept the professors, Kevin King and Timothy John Weeks, in captivity since 2016.
Ghani also named the Taliban detainees who included: Anas Haqqani, brother of the Taliban deputy chief, Siraj ud Din Haqqani, his maternal uncle, Mali Khan, and Hafiz Rashid Omari, brother of the Taliban’s political negotiator, Mohammed Nabi Omari.
Mali Khan was arrested by the Americans in eastern Khost province in 2011.
Anas, who was inducted in the insurgent group’s negotiating team in February, was captured by US security officials after he visited Qatar in October 2014.
He was accompanied by another Taliban leader, Rashid, who had gone to Qatar to meet five Taliban leaders who had been freed from the Guantanamo prison. They were later handed over to the Afghan authorities.
In August 2016, an Afghanistan court had awarded Anas a death sentence.
An earlier media report suggested that Taliban prisoners were flown out of Afghanistan and had reached Qatar, where they would be handed over to the Taliban political office.
However, Mujahid told Arab News on Friday that the swap did not take place and the Taliban prisoners were still in the Bagram jail in the north of Afghan capital Kabul.
“There was an agreement that the Americans will take our prisoners to a location and in return we will release the two professors later. But they have not fulfilled their promise by taking our people to that venue. Under the circumstances, we are still holding the American and Australian professors hostage. And there is no progress in the deal so far,” the Taliban spokesman said in an audio sent to Arab News.
Experts in Afghanistan said that delay in the prisoner swap was the result of deep mistrust on all sides.
Zakir Jalai, a television commentator and Afghan peace activist, said the prisoner issue was very sensitive and the Afghan government was under intense pressure not to release Anas Haqqani.
“I think the Taliban do not trust the Americans and will not hand over the professors unless they have complete trust that the US will free the Taliban prisoners,” Jalali told Arab News from Kabul.
“The Taliban will release the professors when their prisoners are handed over,” he said, adding that both, particularly the Taliban, were very cautious in view of their mistrust of the other.
A day after President Ghani announced the swap deal, Taliban leaders sent congratulatory messages to each other and a Taliban official in an audio message, in possession of Arab News, said: “Congratulations, as the plane carrying the freed prisoners has taken off an hour ago.”
A Taliban official earlier said his incarcerated colleagues were taken out of the Bagram prison but were then locked up again in the jail.


Meghan seeks to stop tabloid naming friends in UK legal battle

Updated 11 min 35 sec ago

Meghan seeks to stop tabloid naming friends in UK legal battle

  • Meghan is taking on Mail on Sunday to court
  • Duchess says 5 friends have right to privacy

LONDON: Meghan, Britain's Duchess of Sussex, on Thursday sought a court order to stop the publisher of the Mail on Sunday tabloid from revealing the names of five friends who could be witnesses in an ongoing legal dispute, according to a court filing.
Meghan, wife of Queen Elizabeth's grandson Prince Harry, is suing publisher Associated Newspapers over articles the Mail on Sunday printed last year that included parts of a handwritten letter she sent to her estranged father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018.
Markle and his daughter have not spoken since he pulled out of appearing at her wedding to Harry in May 2018.
The Mail justified publishing the letter by saying five unnamed friends of Meghan had put her version of events in interviews with the U.S. magazine People.
Her legal team say it was untrue she had authorised or arranged for her friends to tell People about the letter, and on Thursday said Associated Newspapers were threatening to publish their names.
"These five women are not on trial, and nor am I. The publisher of the Mail on Sunday is the one on trial," Meghan said in a witness statement to London's High Court reviewed by Reuters.
"Each of these women is a private citizen... and each has a basic right to privacy," she added, saying their names had appeared in a confidential section of her legal papers.
A spokesman for the Mail on Sunday said the newspaper had "no intention" of publishing the names of the friends this weekend, but said it had told Meghan's lawyers that the question of their confidentiality should be considered by the court.
"Their evidence is at the heart of the case and we see no reason why their identities should be kept secret," he said.
Meghan, Harry and their baby son Archie are living in Los Angeles, having stepped down from royal duties at the end of March, partly because of intense media intrusion into their lives.
In documents filed last week as part of Meghan’s privacy case, her lawyers said her friends had spoken out because of the "tremendous emotional distress" caused by "false" British tabloid press articles.
In May, the judge in the case rejected part of her claim that the paper had acted dishonestly and stoked the rift with her father. The full trial is not expected until next year.