14 Nov 2012

Pakistan to free Afghan Taliban prisoners

Pakistan agrees to free several Afghan Taliban prisoners, according to officials from both countries.

Taliban fighters train with their weapons in an undisclosed location in Afghanistan (Reuters)

Afghan officials, hopeful that direct contacts with top Taliban commanders could give them strong leverage in any peace talks, have long urged Pakistan for access to prisoners.

“We aren’t too certain whether they can play an important role in peace negotiations but it is a positive gesture from Pakistan in helping peace efforts,” an Afghan official said. He said it was not clear when the release would occur.

A senior Pakistani army official said it had not yet been decided if the former Afghan Taliban second in command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, would be released.

Read more: Hamid Karzai on the Taliban, corruption and WikiLeaks

A political settlement?

Afghan officials have identified him as a figure who may still command enough respect to persuade the Taliban to pursue peace after more than a decade of fighting US-led Nato and Afghan forces.

A political settlement between the Afghan government and the insurgents is widely seen as the best way of delivering stability to the country before most Nato combat troops pull out at the end of 2014.

The Pakistani army official declined to give any information about who was going to be released saying details had yet to be worked out.

The decision to release the prisoners was a major achievement for Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, which is in Islamabad to push for Taliban releases and has been struggling to ease mistrust between the Taliban and the Kabul government.

Even if the release of the Afghan Taliban prisoners does not produce breakthroughs, it could improve Pakistan’s image and bolster its argument that it is committed to stabilising Afghanistan.