New Delhi, Dec 30: The Taliban has denied that the US citizen Mark Frerichs was in its custody. According to sources, the acting foreign minister of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Amir Khan Muttaqi conveyed this to the United States special envoy Thomas West last week in Islamabad on the sidelines of the OIC meeting.
Muttaqi told West that right from the beginning, the Taliban has been saying this. This was conveyed to the US team in Doha last year while signing the peace deal.
“We checked again and again with all our commanders, but no one has any information,” Muttaqi told West. The Taliban foreign minister stressed that this was also told to his predecessor both formally and informally.
But according to sources, the Taliban minister is merely trying to raise the stakes. During the last meeting in Doha earlier this month, in his first meeting with Muttaqi, West had raised the issue of Frerichs, but could not give any justification about why the American hostage is still in their custody. Muttaqi was reminded that the younger brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, Anas Haqqani had expressed hope that discussions between his group and Zalmay Khalilzad, West’s predecessor, will see a positive outcome but so far nothing has happened.
Mark Frerichs, a contractor and former US Navy diver was abducted in January 2020 by the Haqqani Network in the Khost area on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, a stronghold of the Haqqanis.
Since then, he has apparently been under the custody of the Haqqani Network (HQN), a UN designated terror group. Sirajuddin Haqqani who is now the Interior Minister of Taliban ruled Afghanistan also heads the HQN. He too is a US designated terrorist with a bounty of $10 million.
Last year, Taliban negotiators had told Khalilzad several times that the release of Mark Frerichs was possible if the US freed Bashir Noorzai, an Afghan drug lord with close ties to HQN. At present, Noorazi is serving a life sentence in the US for smuggling $50 million worth of heroin into the country.
The US has offered $5 million for information that leads to Frerichs’ location and return. The Biden administration has indicated that they are ready to strike a deal with the Taliban to pardon the Afghan drug lord in exchange for the last American hostage abducted last year but that is only possible after getting the recent proof that Mark Frerichs is alive.
Recently the US has endorsed the UN proposal of paying $6 million to Sirajuddin Haqqani’s ministry to provide security for the UN staff who will be providing humanitarian aid to the people of Afghanistan.
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