The Taliban is apparently releasing the South Korean Christian aid workers a few at a time. The Associated Press reports:
The first group of three women were released in the village of Qala-e-Kazi. Several hours later, four women and one man were released in a desert close to Shah Baz, said the reporter, who witnessed both hand-overs. None of the eight said anything to reporters.
It is remarkable that the Taliban agreed to terms that require no additional effort by anyone. (There are no news reports of any ransom being paid.) It's almost a happy ending. But the kidnappers have killed two of the Christian aid workers to prove they were serious about their demand for a prisoner exchange.
So is the freeing of the hostages today a testimony to the power of face-to-face negotiations with terrorists? Or is it testimony the power of not negotiating with them? Both forces were at play here: The Korean government held the talks, but had no power to meet the Taliban demands. Those who could release military prisoners – the U.S. and Afghanistan governments – refused to consider the possibility. It looks to me like this resolution came about precisely because the South Korean government was talking face-to-face (giving the Taliban something they wanted even more than a prisoner exchange: an air of legitimacy) and because the South Koreans couldn't really do anything.
The other key factor in the freeing of the hostages was internal division within the Taliban. There were many within the group, as well as from key Islamic leaders outside the group, who criticized the kidnapping of women.