Pakistan releases at least seven Taliban prisoners at the request of Afghan government

 

Pakistan
has released at least seven Taliban prisoners at the request of the Afghan
government in a move that observers believe will help push forward the
stumbling peace process with the militant group.

Responding to a direct request from Afghan envoys visiting Islamabad, Pakistan agreed to release at least seven lower to mid-level militants. The agreement was seen as a sign of Pakistan’s commitment to help broker a peace deal.

“They are second-tier leaders according to my information. But I think this is the first step,” said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general and strategic analyst based in Islamabad.

“I think it shows that Pakistan wants to improve its relations with Afghanistan and that it is interested in the peace process.”

There is mounting anxiety ahead of the 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of most US combat troops from Afghanistan and a growing consensus that any peace deal can only be brokered by involving the Taliban in talks. Pakistan, which has had an involved, complicated relationship with the Taliban since the 1990s and is where many senior Taliban leaders are based, is seen as crucial to brokering any agreement.

The release of the prisoners came at the end of a three-day visit to Pakistan by Salahuddin Rabbani, head of the Afghan High Peace Council. Mr Rabbani had been pressing for a release of prisoners it believes could help open the way for negotiations.

In particular Afghanistan wanted to see the setting free of the Taliban’s former deputy leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was apparently captured in Karachi in February 2010 in a joint operation involving US and Pakistani operatives. He is seen as having considerable influence over Taliban fighters operating in Afghanistan.

The Pakistanis did not release Mr Baradar on this occasion but according to reports they did release between seven to ten lower-ranking fighters. The BBC said that among those set free was the Taliban’s former justice minister, Mullah Turabi, along with two intelligence officials.

Abdul Hamid Mubarez, a member of the Afghan delegation told Reuters: “Pakistan has sent us a very strong message and Pakistan has agreed in principle to start releasing prisoners from today.”

The path towards brokering an agreement between the various factions appears littered with obstacles. In September last year, the then head of the Afghan peace council, Burhannudin Rabbani, was killed by a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban peace envoy. In May of this year, Arsala Rahmani, another important member, was shot dead in Kabul in an attack that was subsequently blamed on the Taliban

The Taliban’s willingness to engage in talks also remains unclear and the situation is complicated further by the fact there are almost certainly differences within the militant organisation. The government of Hamid Karzai has failed to secure direct talks with the militants and earlier this spring the Taliban announced it was suspending planned talks with the US in Qatar after it said Washington had issued a series of “vague” statements.

Pakistan has traditionally seen the Afghan Taliban as a strategic asset that provided it with powerful influence over Afghanistan. In the 1990s, Pakistan helped the Taliban seize control of the country and it is widely believed that elements within the Pakistan military establishment continue to support some of the militants.

Yet Pakistan is also worried about the potential for instability in Afghanistan following the planned withdrawal of foreign forces. If a civil war breaks out as it did in the 1990s, there could be a new stream of Afghan refugees pouring into Pakistan. There are already many of thousands of refugees living there.

Pakistan is also concerned about the growing influence of India in Afghanistan. Earlier this week, Mr Karzai was in Delhi where he signed a number of new agreements with India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh. India has already invested $2bn in development projects in the country.

“India supports efforts to achieve a lasting peace in Afghanistan that brings together all sections of Afghan society while preserving the achievements of the last decade, including in the area of women's rights,” said Mr Singh. “We respect the choices that the Afghan people make of their own free will.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Systems and Network Support Analyst

£26000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a rapidly expandi...

Recruitment Genius: IT Systems Support Analyst

£20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a rapidly expandi...

Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

£20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker / Trainee Broker / Closer - OTE £250,000

£30000 - £250000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker/ Trainee FX, Stoc...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests