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Zalmay Khalilzad met Ashraf Ghani

01 November, 2019

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US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has returned to Afghan capital Kabul for consultations about a prisoners swap deal as part of his efforts to restart the stalled peace process with the Taliban.

A US source confirmed on Thursday that Khalilzad is back in Kabul after holding talks with Pakistani leaders on ways to resume the peace process with the Taliban.

In Kabul an Afghan official told the media that the US envoy met President Ashraf Ghani and that “there might be something within days.” But he did not offer any comment if the meeting was about the prisoners’ release.

However, sources said he is finalising a prisoners’ exchange agreement that will pave the way for the release of two foreign professors – an American and an Australian – who Taliban have held hostage since 2016. In return, the US and Afghan government will set free several Taliban detainees.

Taliban sources had earlier confirmed that Pakistani had been mediating for the release of the foreign professors and there had been negotiations about the agreement in Qatar.

In July, Prime Minister Imran Khan said in Washington there would be “good news” about the two foreign professors. But the deal was delayed.

Khalilzad — who led the team of American negotiators during the two-day talks with the Taliban in the UAE in December last year had called for the release of the two professors, according to a Taliban official. If the Taliban and the US finalised the prisoners exchange deal, it could be a major confidence building for the resumption of the peace process.

President Donald Trump called off talks with the Taliban in early September after the Taliban bomber killed an American soldier and 10 other people. Some Taliban sources say the prisoners deal is most likely within a week.

Afghanistan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib said in Kabul this week that Khalilzad had discussed the issue of prisoners with President Ashraf Ghani during his recent meeting. Taliban have been demanding release of their prisoners including Anas Haqqani, a brother of the Taliban deputy chief Sirajud Haqqani and his uncle Mali Khan.

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