Pakistan Agrees to Release Some Afghan Taliban Prisoners

Posted November 14th, 2012 at 10:10 am (UTC-5)
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Officials say Pakistan has agreed to release some Afghan Taliban prisoners, a move that could help facilitate peace talks between the insurgent group and the Afghan government.

Afghanistan has long sought access to the prisoners to aid the stalled peace process. Support from Pakistan, which backed the Taliban regime in the late 1990's, is seen as crucial to Afghan reconciliation efforts.

It was not clear how many or which prisoners were involved in the release. Unnamed Afghan and Pakistani officials told reporters that “seven or eight” prisoners had already been released, but gave no further details. There was also no word on whether the Taliban's former second-in-command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, would be freed.

Pakistan's decision to release the prisoners came as the head of the Afghan High Peace Council, Salahuddin Rabbani, held talks in Islamabad with top Pakistani officials, including President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

During their visit to Pakistan this week, Pakistani Prime Minister Ashraf told the Afghan delegation there is consensus that both countries should work together for peace in the region.

President Zardari pledged to support Afghanistan's peace efforts, and said having a peaceful, stable Afghanistan is important for Pakistan's own stability and prosperity.

International troops are handing over security responsibility to Afghan forces, and are set to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

In March, the Afghan Taliban said it broke off preliminary contacts with the United States regarding peace talks. The insurgent group has repeatedly refused to directly negotiate with the Afghan government.

Separately Wednesday, NATO said the coalition's deputy commander in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Nick Carter, met with top Pakistani army official, Lieutenant General Waheed Arshad. NATO said the two discussed “mutually shared goals of peace and stability in the region, including pressuring militant groups and strengthening cross-border cooperation along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.”