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Pakistan frees Taliban prisoners

Date

Ben Doherty, South Asia Correspondent

Visiting the Pakistani capital in an attempt to smooth over friction between Afghanistan and Pakistan ... head of the Afghan High Peace Council, Salahuddin Rabbani.

Visiting the Pakistani capital in an attempt to smooth over friction between Afghanistan and Pakistan ... head of the Afghan High Peace Council, Salahuddin Rabbani. Photo: AFP

IN A GESTURE designed to encourage the Taliban towards peace negotiations, Pakistan has agreed to release a number of high-profile Afghan Taliban prisoners from its jails.

The exact number of amnesties - it could be as many as 10 - is not yet known, and nor will Pakistan confirm who is going to be released. It is understood that some prisoners have already been released, while others will be freed in coming days.

Pakistan has about 50 Afghan Taliban in its prisons, but Afghanistan is pushing for the release of two who it believes could be crucial in helping restart peace talks between Afghanistan, the Taliban and the US: Nooruddin Turabi and Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Turabi, the former Taliban justice minister, is expected to be among those freed but, while he was formerly very senior in the organisation, there are doubts about the extent of his influence today.

Baradar, the Taliban's No. 2 and one of their most respected field operatives, is a man who many believe could bring commanders to the negotiating table, but there is reluctance from Pakistan to release such a high-value military figure.

Baradar was captured in Karachi in 2010. He is considered close to the Taliban's spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, and still holds significant influence.

Mullah Omar broke off peace talks with the US in March this year, saying America was not genuine in its desire to negotiate. But the US is keen to at least have discussions restarted by the time it withdraws its combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014.

The release of prisoners came in the middle of a to Islamabad by Salahuddin Rabbani, the head of Afghanistan's High Peace Council. His visit to the Pakistani capital is an attempt to smooth over friction between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Afghan government, along with the US, believes Pakistan, while ostensibly an ally in the war on terror, also supports and finances terror groups, such as the Haqqani network, and allows Taliban leaders to live in and plan attacks from its mountainous border regions.

But both Afghanistan and America recognise Pakistan is crucial for any peace pact with the Taliban to succeed.

Mr Rabbani took over as High Peace Council chief from his father, Burhanuddin, who was killed in a suicide bomb attack in 2011. Kabul has blamed Pakistan for the attack, a charge Pakistan denies. His visit is being seen as a genuine step towards reconciliation.

''Maligning each other through media leaves little space for serious dialogue,'' a statement from the Pakistan foreign ministry and Afghan peace council said. ''Close and consistent co-operation between Afghanistan and Pakistan is key to building trust and … promoting peace and stability.''

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