Pakistan agrees to set free Taliban leaders

JNN 15 Nov 2012 Islamabad : Islamabad government has agreed to release several leaders of Afghan Taliban from Pakistani jails in a bid to facilitate peace process in the troubled region, officials say.

The move came after the Pakistan government officials held talks with Afghanistan’s High Peace Council in Islamabad.

“That includes the release of some of the Taliban leaders from Pakistani jails who could play a role in the process,” AFP quoted an Afghan official as saying on Wednesday.

“Pakistan has promised to the delegation its full cooperation to Afghanistan’s peace process,” the official added.
It was unclear if the detainees, who are said to be numbering close to 10, have been set free on Tuesday or would be released at the conclusion of Mr Rabbani’s visit.

The group, according to a source, does not include Mullah Baradar — Taliban’s second in command — who was captured by Pakistani security forces in Karachi in 2010.

Talks between the peace delegation led by Mr Rabbani and Pakistani officials would continue on Wednesday when the two sides are expected to come up with a joint statement on the progress made by them.

Sources say the former Taliban justice minister Mullah Turabi and two intelligence officials are among the group who are expected to be released.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has formed a peace council to lead talks with the Taliban.

The council has been making efforts to initiate dialogue with discontented Afghans and militants who have engaged in warfare with the US-led forces and Kabul’s Western-backed government.

The council has expressed willingness to listen to legitimate demands by the militants.

Pakistan says it backs peace efforts. The BBC’s Orla Guerin says the releases are a tangible step to prove this.

Our correspondent, reporting from Islamabad, says that the key issues are who is being freed, and how much power they have.

Crucially, it appears that the Taliban number two, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is not among those being released – at least for now.

However, Afghan officials hope that Mullah Turabi can bring field commanders into talks. But one Taliban leader told the BBC he no longer has any influence over the movement.

Since the Taliban pulled out of preliminary negotiations with the US in March, there has been little sign of movement in peace efforts in Afghanistan.

At a minimum, Pakistan’s decision to release several Taliban prisoners could generate some momentum.

Islamabad has plenty of high-ranking Taliban to choose from.

It is holding as many as 50 significant figures, according to one source, including shadow governors – part of a parallel Taliban power structure – and the Taliban number two, Mullah Baradar.

But Pakistan appears unwilling to give him up yet.

President Karzai earlier said some Taliban leaders had already held talks with officials from the Kabul administration. No details, however, have so far been revealed about the alleged negotiations.

Top American commanders had confirmed the role of US-led foreign troops in taking Taliban leaders to Kabul for talks.

Afghan officials have long lobbied for the release of Taliban prisoners by Pakistan in the hope that direct contacts with top insurgent commanders could boost peace talks.

“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 told the Reuters news agency.

Officials say that it is not clear when the releases will occur and the details are still being worked out.

A political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban is widely seen by analysts as the most effective way of delivering stability to Afghanistan before most Nato troops withdraw at the end of 2014.

In March, the Taliban suspended preliminary peace negotiations with the US, saying that Washington’s efforts to involve the Afghan authorities were a key stumbling block.

Correspondents say that Wednesday’s announcement is a major achievement for Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, which has been campaigning in Islamabad for Taliban releases and has been struggling to reduce mistrust between the Taliban and the government in Kabul.

The 70-member peace council was set up more than two years ago by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to open negotiations with insurgents.

It was given the task of reaching out to hundreds of Taliban field commanders, but it has consistently failed to woo any senior figures away from the insurgency.

In May, Arsala Rahmani, a key member of the council, was shot dead in Kabul in an attack blamed on the Taliban. Officials said it was a major blow to President Karzai.

In September 2011, the chief of the council, Burhanuddin Rabbani, was killed by a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban peace envoy.

Both Afghan and American officials have often accused Pakistan of backing insurgents – including the Haqqani group – as its proxies in Afghanistan to counter the influence of its rival India.

But Pakistan has rejected those claims.

Earlier this month, however, the UN Security Council’s Taliban sanctions committee added the Haqqani group to its blacklist. The US state department designated the group as a terrorist organisation in September.

Taliban leaders has repeatedly said that the militant group will never hold talks with authorities in Kabul as long as US-led forces are present in Afghanistan.

Some US and Western officials claim that Taliban leader Mullah Omar is hiding in Pakistan’s troubled northwestern tribal belt. However, senior officials in Islamabad have rejected the claim.

Omar, the founder of the Taliban, was Afghanistan’s de facto head of state from 1996 to 2001. He was unseated as a result of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 under the pretext of combating terrorism.

The attack removed the Taliban from power, but the war went on to cause record-high civilian and military casualties and now, years into the invasion, insecurity rages on across the violence-scarred country. The US-led war has also become the longest military conflict in the American history.
The escalating human cost of the war is putting a great deal of pressure on NATO member states to withdraw their troops


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