A protester holds a poster with Persian that reads"If Ghani and Abdullah do not betray the terrorist attacks' victims, they should execute Anas Haqqani and the other terrorist leaders who have been arrested" during a demonstration in Kabul in 2016. File picture: Rahmat Gul/AP

Kabul - The Afghan government said on Tuesday that it would conditionally release three key Taliban prisoners including the younger brother of Sirajjuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network and deputy head of the Taliban militants.

The prisoners, including Anas Haqqani, will be released from Bagram prison, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a press conference, saying the decision was "difficult but important."

Other key Taliban members being released, according to Ghani, were Abdul Rashid and Mali Khan. 

The Haqqani network tries to maintain its own identity within the Afghan Taliban, according to experts, but is now considered an integral part of the militant group.

The network is responsible for some of the most gruesome attacks in Afghanistan including the truck bombing near the German embassy in Kabul that left at least 90 people dead and several hundred injured.

The prisoners will be freed in what is expected to be an exchange for two professors from the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF), United States citizen Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, who were abducted by the militants in August 2016.

Ghani said the release would also take place "in order to pave the way for face-to-face and direct talks with the Taliban to achieve peace and stability." So far, the militants have refused to talk to them as they consider Kabul a "puppet government."

"Our joint effort in tracing the two professors gave no result, and information suggests that their health and safety while being held by the kidnapping terrorists have deteriorated," the Afghan leader said.

The AUAF said in a statement that it is encouraged by the news.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed to dpa that the militants would issue a statement, but it was not clear when that would happen. 

Former Defence Ministry official Tamim Asey said the move could break a deadlock in the frozen peace talks, while political analyst Ahmad Saeedi said the release took place under extreme pressure from US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad.

The release is also an apparent shift in Afghan government policy under immense pressure. Presidential palace spokesman Sediq Sediqqi just a couple of weeks ago said that the release of Anas Haqqani is, "the red line of the government and the people of Afghanistan."

The talks between the US and the Taliban that began in the middle of last year was called off by US president Donald Trump in early September following a Taliban attack in Kabul that killed a US soldier.

Khalilzad made a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan in October in what experts called a push to revive the talks.

dpa