Pakistan releases seven Afghan Taliban fighters

Country says the aim is to 'facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process'

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The Independent Online

Pakistan has released seven senior Taliban figures "in order to facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process."

One of those released was a top military commander for the group in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai - who met Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last week - wants the neighbouring country to help open dialogue with the armed group.

A statement from the Pakistani foreign ministry read: "In order to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process, Pakistan is releasing seven Taliban detainees, namely Mansoor Dadullah, Said Wali, Abdul Manan, Karim Agha, Sher Afzal, Gul Muhammad and Muhammad Zai.

"These releases are in addition to 26 Taliban detainees released during the last year," it added. Pakistan did not say whether they had been released yet or what they were imprisoned for.

According to the BBC, Mansoor Dadullah was the Taliban's military commander in four of the most violent provinces of southern Afghanistan until his capture in Pakistan's western Balochistan province in February 2008.

Pakistan backed the Taliban's rise to power in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s and is seen as a crucial gatekeeper in attempts by the US and Afghan governments to contact insurgent leaders who fled to Pakistan after the group's 2001 removal.

But Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan of playing a double game in its 12-year-old war against Taliban fighters. It says Pakistan, facing a Taliban insurgency of its own, makes pronouncements about peace, but allows elements of its military to play a spoiling role.

The Afghan authorities are now fighting the insurgency with little or no help from international forces that have been in the country since 2001's US-led invasion.

All Nato combat missions are planned to end by the end of next year, and the 100,000 foreign troops deployed across the country have already begun to withdraw from the battlefield.

The US provides the bulk of the military presence, with 68,000 troops, with the UK's 9,000 the second most.