Islamabad - Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday welcomed the release of two hostages, an American and an Australian, by the Afghan Taliban and reiterated Pakistan’s unwavering commitment to facilitating the Afghan peace process.

In a post on Twitter, the premier said Pakistan had fully facilitated the release of Kevin King and Timothy Weeks “as part of its policy of supporting initiatives for a negotiated political settlement of the Afghan conflict”.

PM Imran Khan expressed hope that the prisoner exchange would encourage all parties to resume the stalled Afghan peace process.

Pakistan has been seeking political solution of the Afghan conflict and has been playing key role in bringing the US and Afghan Taliban on one table and is now supporting international efforts seeking a direct dialogue between Afghan government and Taliban.

Analysts have termed the swap of prisoners between the Afghan government and Taliban a major development in terms of confidence-building measure (CBM) and offers a new opportunity to be taped to push both sides for direct talks.

They believed that release and swap were intended to try to restart talks to end Afghanistan’s 18-year war and allow for the eventual withdrawal of US troops.

The US had been close to an agreement in September with the Taliban but a fresh wave of violence in the Afghan capital that killed an American soldier brought talks and an impending deal to a grinding halt.

The agreement called for direct talks between the Taliban and Kabul administration, as well as other prominent Afghans, to find a negotiated end to the war and set out a roadmap for what a post-war Afghanistan would look like.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, in his discussions with Pompeo and O’Brien said he wanted a reduction in violence and an all-out cease-fire, his spokesman had said.

According to a US State Department statement on Tuesday, Pompeo reportedly told Kabul that Washington was committed to working closely together to address violence if the president’s decision does not produce the intended results.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien also made separate calls to Ghani on Monday to discuss the prisoners’ release, the Afghan president’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said.

Deal to secure safe release of Kevin King and Timothy Weeks came hours after the Afghan government freed three Taliban prisoners and reportedly sent them to Qatar. The three included Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of the Taliban’s deputy Sirajuddin Haqqani, who also leads the fearsome Haqqani network.

President Ghani a week ago announced the conditional release of the Taliban figures, saying at a press event broadcast live on state television that it was a very hard decision he felt he had to make in the interest of the Afghan people.

King and Weeks, the two captives held by the Taliban were abducted in 2016 outside the American University in Kabul where they both work as teachers.

The following year, the Taliban released two videos showing the captives. A January 2017 video showed them appearing pale and gaunt. In the later video, King and Weeks looked healthier and said a deadline for their release was set for June 16 that year.

Both said they are being treated well by the Taliban but that they remain prisoners and appealed to their governments to help set them free. It was impossible to know whether they were forced to speak.

Subsequently, United States officials said that American forces had launched a rescue mission to free the two, but the captives were not found at the raided location.