Taliban hold back American hostage Mark Frerichs, want Afghan drug lord set free from US prison in exchange
New Delhi: It has been more than three months but still there is no sign of the last American hostage Mark Frerichs who was kidnapped last year by the militants of the dreaded Haqqani terror network of the Taliban.
The Taliban negotiators had told the then US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad several times that the release of Mark Frerichs was possible if the US freed Bashir Noorzai, an Afghan drug lord with ties to the Taliban.
Noorazi is serving a life sentence in the US for smuggling $50 million of heroin into the country. But, the family of the hostage Frerich blamed Khalilzad for not prioritising the issue.
The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West raised the issue again with the Taliban Foreign Minister minister Amir Khan Mutaqi onTuesday during the US-Taliban talks in Doha. West tweeted that among other important issues including the safe return of Mark Frerichs was themain focus of the talks.
Though no further details were shared, according to Afghan sources Muttaqi could not give any justification about why the American hostage is still in their custody.
According to sources, 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.
The US has offered $5 million for information that leads to Frerichs location and return. The US has approached Pakistan, which has been helping the Haqqani Network, to put pressure on the terror group
Interestingly, the US has declared a bounty of $10 million on the head of Sirajuddin Haqqani.
“Frerichs is of great importance to the President. The US team has continued to press the Taliban for his release, and has continued to raise the status in senior-level engagements in Doha and in Islamabad,” said Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary but despite being on the top priority, nothing has happened.
Interestingly, Bashir Noorazi is a trusted aide of Sirajuddin Haqqani.
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. A month later the US-Taliban signed the deal and interestingly Sirajuddin Haqqani was one of the signatories as the Taliban’s negotiation team but there was no word about the Rerichs.
According to reliable Pakistani sources, he is alive and the Haqqani Network has been changing his locations between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Now the question is if the Biden Administration is willing to work with wanted FBI criminals in the Taliban government then why is it so hard to get the last American hostage?
“The Taliban thinks Frerichs was spying on them and he knows too much about the Taliban and Haqqanis,” says the Pakistani source.