I don't believe Pakistan was motivated by moral interest in releasing U.S. hostage Caitlan Coleman and her family, and I'm skeptical of Pakistan's account of the rescue.
These hostages were released Thursday after five years in the Haqqani network's captivity. An ally of the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, and a committed adversary of the United States, the Haqqani network is half-mafia, half-terrorist. Crucially relevant, however, the Haqqanis are also supported and influenced by powerful elements of the Pakistani establishment. Most notably, Pakistan's ISI intelligence service.
But if the Haqqanis and key Pakistani government officials are close, as they are, why did they release these hostages without a reciprocal U.S. prisoner exchange?
According to the Toronto Star, Coleman's husband, Joshua Boyle "told his parents that he was in the trunk of the kidnappers' car with his wife and children when Pakistani forces rescued them. He said his kidnappers were killed in a shootout that left him with minor shrapnel wounds. The last words Boyle said he heard from the kidnappers were, 'kill the hostages.'"
Similarly, the Pakistani army claims that it received U.S. intelligence on the hostages' whereabouts, surrounded the kidnappers vehicle, and then heroically rescued the family. On paper, the shootout suggests this rescue wasn't the result of a deal between Pakistani officials and the Haqqani network.
But I doubt it's that simple.
After all, thanks to longstanding double-dealing between the Haqqani network, the ISI, Pakistani military, and other officials, Pakistan is normally very hesitant to take on the group. It also raises my eyebrow that the kidnappers apparently escaped the gun battle. That circumstance leads me to believe that the Pakistanis may have bought off or ordered the Haqqanis to release the hostages and staged the rescue for U.S. consumption.
Regardless, what is very likely is that this release came about in response to the Trump administration's growing anger. As I explained following President Trump's condemnation of Pakistan in August, the U.S. has significant means by which to influence that nation's government in favor of our interests. We just haven't had the courage to use those options for a long time.
Of course, what matters most is that Americans have been liberated.