New Delhi: Three Indian engineers held by the Taliban in Afghanistan since May last year have been freed in exchange for 11 of its top members from Afghan jails, a PTI report said on Monday. The three freed engineers were among a group of seven kidnapped last year.
The release of three Indian hostages follows key meetings between US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Islamabad during the weekend, the PTI report said.
Two Taliban officials told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on Sunday that the swap took place earlier in the day, but they did not disclose the location.
In New Delhi, there was no confirmation of the release of the three engineers, whose identities were not disclosed by in the news reports either.
The 11 Taliban prisoners freed on Sunday were being held in one of Afghanistan's largest jails at the Bagram military base, north of the capital, Kabul, the Associated Press reported. While the US troops handed over the sprawling military facility to Afghan security forces some years ago, it still maintains a presence at Bagram. It was not clear whether the Taliban were released by the US or Afghan forces.
In May 2018, six Indian engineers and their Afghan driver were abducted from the Bagh-e-Shamal area of northern Baghlan Province where they were working on an electricity sub-station. The engineers were working for KEC, a global infrastructure engineering, procurement and construction company of RPG Enterprises. No group had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping last year.
One of the six Indian hostages was released in March.
The Taliban delegation arrived in Pakistan last week in an attempt to carry forward peace talks with Khalilzad that were called off by US president Donald Trump last month. In Pakistan, the Taliban delegation called on Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and exchanged views on peace and stability in the South Asian region and bilateral relations in their meeting.
Since his appointment in September last year, Afghanistan-born US envoy Khalilzad has met with all sides in an attempt to end America's longest war in which the US has lost over 2,400 soldiers in more than 17 years.
The US and the Taliban had agreed on draft peace plan but Trump stunned the world when he suddenly called off the Afghan peace talks following the death of an American soldier in Kabul in a suicide attack claimed by the Taliban. Trump also cancelled a secret meeting with the Taliban and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at Camp David near Washington.
The US has continued to push for a ceasefire in the war-torn country and the opening of negotiations between the Taliban and the Kabul government. The Taliban, however, have repeatedly refused to meet with officials of the Afghan government, whom they dismiss as "puppets".