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January 01, 2013

Afghanistan Welcomes Taliban Prisoner Release

by VOA News

Afghanistan is welcoming Pakistan's release of eight Afghan Taliban prisoners as an important step in the peace process.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi told reporters in Kabul Tuesday that the government hopes the release will encourage other Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government.

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 was minister of justice under Taliban rule in Afghanistan in the late 1990s. He is said to be in poor health. The United Nations says Turabi was appointed as a Taliban military commander in Afghanistan in mid-2009 and was a deputy to Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar.

Pakistan's foreign ministry said Monday the prisoners were released "in order to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process."

Senior members of the Afghan High Peace Council also welcomed the release.  Ismail Qasemyar told news agencies the move is a good, practical step in the right direction and said he hoped Pakistan will free more Taliban prisoners.

Another 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 in order 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.