Three Indian engineers held by the Taliban in Afghanistan since May 2018 have been freed by the militant group in exchange for 11 of its top members from Afghan jails, according to an Afghan media report Monday.
However, there was no official confirmation from India on the release or identity of the engineers, who are reported to have been working for KEC, a global infrastructure engineering, procurement and construction company of RPG Enterprises.
They are reported to have been among seven Indian engineers and their Afghan driver who were abducted in the first week of May 2018 in the Bagh-e-Shamal area of northern Baghlan province, where they were working on an electricity sub-station.
What the deal tells India
The prisoner swap deal holds two key pointers for India, which is a stakeholder in Afghanistan. The US and Taliban have re-engaged after President Donald Trump declared that the Afghan talks, which would pave the way for a US pullout, was dead. By hosting the latest round of talks, Pakistan continues to play a key role in the process.
One of the seven was released in March. No group had claimed responsibility for their abduction at the time.
The latest release follows meetings between US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Islamabad during the weekend, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.
Two Taliban officials told the US-funded media outlet that the swap took place earlier Sunday. The officials, however, did not disclose the location of the release and refused to say whether the freed Taliban were being held by Afghan or US forces.
The Associated Press reported that the Taliban were released from one of Afghanistan’s largest jails at the Bagram military base, north of Kabul. While the US troops handed over the base to Afghan security forces years ago, it still maintains a military presence there.
The officials said the freed Taliban leaders include Sheikh Abdur Rahim and Mawlawi Abdur Rashid, who had served as the group’s governors of Kunar and Nimroz provinces, respectively, before the Taliban was deposed by the US-led forces in 2001.
A PTI report quoted BBC’s Pashto service to say that a member of the Haqqani family was among the militant leaders released. It said that Baradar was in Pakistan along with a 12-member Taliban delegation since Wednesday on the invitation of the Pakistan government. The delegation also called on Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
The Taliban officials provided a photo and footage of what they claimed was the freed militants being greeted after their release.
(Inputs from agencies)