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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

A hostage situation in Afghanistan may soon be over. The Taliban released four more South Koreans hostages. The militant group in Afghanistan had already released a dozen others, and three are still being held.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has been tracking the agreement that led to the release. There is something for the Taliban here, and Soraya, what is it?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Well, for one thing, they get to claim victory. They get to say that they forced the Koreans, the South Korean troops, to leave. They reached an agreement face to face with the South Korean government that no more citizens will be coming to this country to either work or proselytize. And they got a lot of publicity for six weeks, so - which does not make the Afghan government very happy.

INSKEEP: And the South Koreans who won't be in Afghanistan include South Korean troops, right?

NELSON: That's correct. There are 200 of them currently who do medical work. And they were planning to leave at the end of the year anyway based on the arrangement that the government of South Korea had reached with Afghanistan. So basically that's been reiterated, but now the Taliban is claiming that as their own. They also get to say that no more missionary work is done here because part of what they've been saying is that these Western governments that are here are in fact proselytizing.

I should also mention that while officially the Taliban say they received no money and the Afghan negotiators say they don't know about any money, one police official told us privately that they in fact received millions of dollars. The Taliban was paid millions of dollars to arrange this release.

INSKEEP: By whom?

NELSON: It's unclear. And again, the police official wouldn't even go on the record with that. That's all he would say about it. The other thing that led to the release is Mohammad Daoud (unintelligible), an influential lawmaker from a Ghazni province, which is where the hostages were taken. And he was telling us that behind the scenes part of what led to the release was intense pressure by the Saudi crowned prince, as well as by Pakistani officials, on the Taliban, basically telling them that these are women, it's against Islam. And of course the Saudi crowned prince represents the most holiest sites for Islam.

And so it felt that their pressure helped the Taliban overcome their demand for releasing militant captives, which is something that they wanted in exchange for the hostages and what they've been insisting on for the last six weeks.

INSKEEP: Soraya, setting aside these reports of possible payments, is there a precedent being said here? Because the Taliban took hostages, they actually killed some of them. Afghans decided to negotiate with them, and in the end promised that some outsiders would be kept out of the country.

NELSON: Well, in the case of the negotiations, it was actually the Koreans who did it. And that was part of the problem, is that you have a legitimate government negotiating with insurgents. This certainly puts the Afghan government in a very weakened position.

And it will certainly increase the risk that more foreigners will be kidnapped because the Taliban have an incentive now. You kidnap a group of people from a certain country, you get their government to send people over, envoys over, to talk them face-to-face. And you reach some sort of agreement without Afghan - the Afghan government being involved. This certainly does not make President Karzai any stronger.

INSKEEP: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Kabul. Soraya, thanks very much.

NELSON: You're welcome, Steve.

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