Pakistan has released eight Afghan Taliban prisoners, including the minister of justice during the Taliban's rule of Afghanistan in the late 1990s.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday the prisoners were released “in order to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process.”
Pakistan said that among those released were former Afghan Justice Minister Mullah Nooruddin Turabi and former Helmand province Governor Abdul Bari, as well as two other former Taliban governors and another former Taliban government minister.
Turabi is said to be in poor health. The United Nations says he was appointed as a Taliban military commander in Afghanistan in mid-2009 and was a deputy to Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar.
The spokesman for the Afghan Taliban also confirmed Turabi's release.
Meanwhile, a top Afghan peace negotiator says the government hopes to transform the Afghan Taliban into a political movement, and that all sides realize a military solution to the conflict is not possible. Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai told Reuters he is cautiously optimistic about a possible reconciliation with the Taliban.
Last month, Pakistan released nine Afghan Taliban prisoners, but not the insurgent group's former deputy leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. He was captured in Pakistan in 2010.
Afghanistan has long sought access to the prisoners to aid the stalled peace process. Support from Pakistan, which backed the Taliban regime is seen as crucial to Afghan reconciliation efforts as international forces complete their withdrawal from the war-torn country by the end of 2014.
Separately, Pakistani security officials say the bodies of nine militants were found dumped in Pakistan's northwestern tribal region Monday.
The bodies were found off a road in the Pir Kili village of North Waziristan tribal agency. Officials said the militants were members of the Pakistani Taliban.
The discovery comes a day after 21 kidnapped tribal police officers were found dead. The police personnel were captured by militants during attacks on checkpoints near the city of Peshawar last week.