Middle East

Australian professor to be released in Taliban prisoner swap

Timothy Weekes appeared pale and drawn in a video released in January, 2017. Source: AAP

Australian Timothy Weekes and fellow professor Kevin King will be released in a prisoner exchange with the Taliban, the Afghan president says.

Afghanistan will release two senior Taliban commanders and a leader of the Haqqani militant group in exchange for Australian professor Timothy Weekes and American colleague Kevin King, who were all kidnapped in 2016.

The government's decision to free Anas Haqqani and two other Taliban commanders in a prisoner swap was taken in the hope of securing direct talks with the Taliban, which has refused to engage with what it calls an illegitimate "puppet" regime in Kabul.

"In order to pave the way for face-to-face negotiations with the Taliban, the government has decided to free Taliban prisoners in exchange for two university professors," Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a televised speech.

Australian Timothy Weekes (top) and American  Kevin King.
Australian Timothy Weekes (top) and American Kevin King.

Mr Ghani said Mr Haqqani and Taliban commanders Haji Mali Khan and Hafiz Rashid were being released. All three were captured in 2014.

The prisoner exchange comes at a time when efforts were being made to revamp peace talks between the US and the Taliban.

The Haqqani network has in recent years carried out large-scale attack on civilians. It is believed to be based in Pakistan and is part of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks to journalists.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks to journalists.

Mr Haqqani is the younger brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is second-in-command in the Afghan Taliban hierarchy and leads the Haqqani network, considered to the deadliest faction of the Afghan Taliban.

A Taliban spokesman earlier this year said that movement was determined to obtain Mr Haqqani's release and named him as a member of a negotiating team that would hold talks with US officials.

The Taliban had kidnapped Mr King and Mr Weeks in August 2016 from the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul.

Mr Ghani said authorities had been unable to discover where the Taliban were holding the two captives.

"Information suggests that their health while being held by the terrorists has deteriorated," he said.

Kevin King making a statement on camera while in captivity in 2017.
Kevin King making a statement on camera while in captivity in 2017.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said during a three-day visit to Washington in July that he would do his best to help release the American University professors.

A Pakistani delegation, including the chief of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency, was in Kabul to meet Afghan authorities on Monday.

A senior Pakistani official in Islamabad said the exchange of prisoners was discussed by the delegation.

According to Afghan officials, the next round of talks between the Taliban and Afghan representatives is slated for this month in Beijing.

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