Oct. 7 (UPI) — The government in Afghanistan has freed nearly a dozen Taliban militant commanders, including a notorious opium smuggler, in exchange for the release of three Indian engineers who’d been held as hostages for more than a year.
Taliban officials said the exchange occurred Sunday.
The engineers were among seven who were abducted more than a year ago while working at a power plant in Afghanistan’s northern Baghlan province. Another was released in March.
Officials said Abdul Rashid Baluch, who was among those released Sunday, was caught smuggling nearly a ton of opium on the Afghanistan-Iran border five years ago. Before his release Sunday, he’d been sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Taliban officials said among others released were Sheikh Abdur Rahim and Mawlawi Abdur Rashid, who were governors of the Taliban administration in Kunar and Nimroz provinces before U.S. forces overthrew the group in 2001.
It wasn’t initially known whether Sunday’s exchange was related to fleeting negotiations among U.S., Afghan and Taliban officials to end fighting in Afghanistan and withdraw U.S. troops.