Pakistan starts Afghan Taliban prisoner release: official

Wed Nov 14, 2012 9:15am EST
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By Mehreen Zahra-Malik

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan began releasing some Afghan Taliban prisoners who the Kabul government believes could help in reconciliation efforts, an official said on Wednesday, the clearest sign that Islamabad will support the troubled Afghan peace process.

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

The task of energizing the Afghan peace process is gaining urgency as NATO combat troops prepare to withdraw by the end of 2014. Some Afghans fear the country could face civil war or another Taliban takeover if insurgents are not brought into a serious peace process before then.

An Afghan official said some Taliban captives had been released but Islamabad and Kabul were at odds over how many would be freed.

Earlier, Abdul Hamid Mubarez, a member of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, visiting Islamabad, told Reuters: "Pakistan has sent us a very strong message and Pakistan has agreed in principle to start releasing prisoners from today."

Pakistan, with its historical ties to Afghan militant groups, is seen as critical to U.S. efforts to pacify Afghanistan, perhaps President Barack Obama's biggest foreign policy challenge as he starts a second term.

It is not clear why Pakistan made the gesture at this time but it has come under mounting pressure to support U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan as the endgame nears.

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.   Continued...