Joe Biden might release Afghan drug lord Bashir Noorzai in exchange for US hostage
Bashir Noorzai is said to be a top drug lord of the Pashtun tribe and Joe Biden might release him for the last hostage Taliban took
It has emerged that the US could release an Afghan drug kingpin to the Taliban in exchange for an American hostage as the Biden administration is "unlikely" to meet the Taliban's August 31 evacuation deadline.
Bashir Noorzai, a top drug lord of the Pashtun tribe to which Taliban Supreme Commander Hibatullah Akhundzada belongs, has been holed up in federal prison for the last 16 years. In 2005, he was arrested by the DEA for his role in the global heroin trade after he traveled to the US under the pretext of diplomatic talks. Now, President Joe Biden is expected to swap Noorzai in exchange for Mark Frerichs, the last American citizen to be taken hostage by the Taliban, Newsweek reported.
Frerichs was taken hostage in January 2020 by a group associated with the Haqqani network, a militia outfit positioned on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that is a strong ally of the Taliban. A government official spoke to Newsweek about the swap on condition of anonymity. "We are eager to explore ways to bring Frerichs back. But these explorations are predicated on receiving a recent proof of life," they told the publication. "The bottom line is that any progress moving forward lies in receiving a proof of life."
The potential swap deal has been welcomed by Frerichs' sister Charlene Cakora. She told Newsweek that while she didn't like the "idea of letting Noorzai go, it was worth it to have her brother released." The embattled sister pushed for Biden to move quickly on the deal. However, a former senior US official anonymously told Newsweek any hostage deal would be based on a solid proof of life which is "itself is sort of its own art form."
This came as the chair of the House Intelligence Committee warned that the Biden administration would not be able to meet the Taliban's August 31 deadline to evacuate Americans and US allies from the war-torn country. Following an intelligence briefing, California Rep Adam Schiff said that while a full evacuation was "possible," it was "very unlikely given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated, the number of SIV’s, the number of others who are members of the Afghan press, civil society leaders, women leaders."
Biden is yet to publicly comment on the potential Noorzai-Frerichs exchange. Earlier this month, Biden's special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, discussed the missing US national during a virtual discussion hosted by the Aspen Security Forum on August 3. There, he was asked if the US would agree to trade Frerichs for Noorzai.
"We want to get [Mark] home safely," Khalilzad said at the time. "I and my colleagues talked to the family and I raised it repeatedly and continue to raise it with the Taliban whenever I see them. We also raise the issue with countries with influence on the Taliban."
Khalilzad said he did "not want to get into the exact details of the negotiations and discussions that we have with them," but acknowledged he was in discussions with countries like Pakistan and Qatar on the subject. "Suffice to say, we are very focused on this," he added, "this is a very high priority for the United States, to bring Mark home safely and as soon as possible."