KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan government should execute Taliban prisoners, an Afghan daily said on Monday, the day after the rebels killed the translator of an Italian journalist.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Taliban commander holding five Afghan Health Ministry officials said the militants would kill one of the hostages unless Kabul opened talks with the group.
Spokesman Shahabuddin Atal said translator Ajmal Naqshbandi had been beheaded on Sunday after the government refused to free several insurgent prisoners. Government officials later confirmed the man was killed.
“Martyring Ajmal Naqshbandi and their other crimes happen as the government shows extreme leniency towards Taliban prisoners,” the daily Arman-e-Millie said in an editorial.
“There has been no implementation of punishment for any criminal and killer Taliban who has been sentenced to heavy punishment by the judicial authorities,” it said. “From now on, criminal Taliban should be executed.”
Newly married Naqshbandi was seized in early March, along with La Repubblica reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo and his local driver.
The Taliban freed the Italian after about two weeks when Kabul released five of its senior members.
The swap happened after the group beheaded Mastrogiacomo’s driver, but the rebels had held on to his translator in a bid to secure the release of more of their men.
Another daily, Cheragh, criticised President Hamid Karzai’s government for failing to free Naqshbandi but going ahead with a deal to secure Mastrogiacomo’s freedom and save Italy’s fragile government from embarrassment.
“Mr. Karzai, no doubt, you managed to save the Italian government from falling. But with regret, you could not save the life of an Afghan and someone who had voted for you,” it said.
Karzai condemned the execution and said Naqshbandi’s release was part of the deal involving the Italian journalist.
“While efforts were going on from the government side for his release, this human killer group murdered him mercilessly,” a presidential palace statement quoted Karzai as saying.
A group representing Afghan journalists said the execution had caused local reporters to fear covering areas where the Taliban are active.
As a sign of protest, some Afghan journalists vowed to omit Taliban comments or statements from their stories for a week and urged foreign media to follow suit.
The Mastrogiacomo deal was widely criticised in Italy and Afghanistan. Security experts said it would trigger more abductions of foreigners.
Last week, two French aid workers — a man and a woman — were kidnapped along with three Afghan colleagues in rugged, lawless Nimroz province between Iran and Afghanistan’s opium heartland of Helmand province.
On Friday, Karzai said he had come under pressure from Rome to approve a deal to win the journalist’s release but ruled out any more prisoner swaps with the Taliban.
The Taliban are also holding five Afghan health officials and have demanded the release of more rebels.
“We have set an April 15 deadline. If the government fails to release our people by this time, we’ll kill him,” Atal told Reuters, referring to one of the five hostages.
“If the Afghan government does not start negotiations immediately, we’ll kill one of the five abducted medical officials,” he said by phone from an undisclosed location.
One of the officials is a cousin of the governor of eastern Nangahar province, a Karzai ally.
With additional reporting by Saeed Ali Achackzai