Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called the current hostage situation in his country shameful and the kidnapping of women particularly un-Islamic in his first comments since 23 South Korean Christians were abducted in one of his country's most insurgency-hit regions.
As negotiations for the freedom of the remaining 22 hostages appeared to make little headway, Karzai spoke Sunday with a special envoy from Seoul about the efforts to try to speed up the hostages' release, Afghan officials said. Photographers were reportedly allowed into the meeting for a brief moment but officials were not immediately available to comment on the talks, reported Agence France-Presse.
According to reports, Karzai criticized the Taliban's kidnapping of "foreign guests," especially women, as contrary to the tenets of Islam.
"This will have a shameful effect on the dignity of the Afghan people," Karzai said in a statement from the presidential palace released after talks with a South Korean delegation.
It has been over a week since Taliban militants abducted 23 South Korean Christians, including 18 women, in insurgency-prone Ghazni province. The church group was on their way to provide free medical services to poor Afghan citizens when their bus was hijacked last Thursday.
Since the abduction – the largest abduction of foreigners in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 – one hostage has been killed. The leader of the aid group, Bae Hyung-kyu, was found dead this past Wednesday with 10 bullet holes in his body.
Although the kidnappers have threatened to kill the remaining captives if their demands are not met and have reported that some of them were in poor health, Afghan officials have said they are optimistic the hostages will be freed without further bloodshed.
"Today we are hopeful to get a good result because more and more elders have gathered from Ghazni," said Qarabagh police chief Khwaja Mohammad on Saturday, according to AP. "I hope the Taliban will listen to these negotiations now because they are neutral people – elders from around Qarabagh district."
On Saturday, Abdul Salaam Rocketi, a former Taliban member who is now part of the Afghan parliament, joined the negotiating team for the release of the hostages.
Ghazni officials said the respected elders and clerics would explain to Taliban militants that taking hostage is unacceptable in Islam and Afghan culture.
"A lot of people are involved today. Inshallah (if God wills it), they will not kill them," said Ghazni lawmaker Habib Rahman, according to AP.
Two days of meetings between elders of Qarabagh district in Ghazni and a delegation of senior officials from Kabul, have yielded no results so far, however, reported Shirin Mangal, spokesman for the Ghazni provincial governor.
"So far there is no progress from the meetings," Mangal said, according to AP.
"There is no need for further talks," purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi told Reuters by telephone Sunday from an undisclosed location. He said the militant group had given a list of insurgent prisoners it wants released in exchange for the hostages – the Taliban's "main demand" – and was now waiting for the government to act.
So far, however, Afghan authorities are refusing to release rebel prisoners after the government came under criticism in March for freeing five Taliban in exchange for an Italian reporter
"Our goal is to seek ways on how we can free the hostages without compromising our laws and regulations in regards with such cases," police chief Alishah Ahmadzai of Ghazni province said to AFP.
A deputy interior minister on Saturday told Reuters that force might be used if talks fail, but Taliban spokesman Yousuf warned against use of force, saying Sunday that "it will jeopardize the lives of the hostages and the Taliban will resist till the last gasp of their breath."
Several foreigners have been held this year by Taliban militants waging a deadly insurgency against the Western-backed government that replaced the hardline regime driven from power in late 2001.
Most of the foreign abductees have been freed, some apparently after hefty ransom payments, although in one case two Afghans also captured with the Italian journalist were beheaded.