ISLAMABAD— Pakistan says it has freed seven more Afghan Taliban prisoners to facilitate peace and reconciliation efforts leaders in neighboring Afghanistan are making to end the 12-year-old conflict in their country.
The announcement Saturday comes less than two weeks after Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Islamabad and demanded the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif release all Taliban leaders detained in Pakistan without any criminal charges facing them.
The Afghan president also had urged Pakistani interlocutors to help set up peace talks between his representatives and leaders of the Taliban insurgency. Prime Minister Sharif told Karzai Pakistan would do its best to promote the Afghan peace efforts, but made no concrete announcements at the time.
On Saturday, a brief Foreign Ministry statement in Islamabad said that “in order to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process, Pakistan is releasing seven Taliban detainees.” It added that the latest release is in addition to 26 Taliban prisoners who were allowed to walk out of Pakistani jails late last year.
The Afghan leadership believes Taliban members detained in Pakistan, if freed and allowed to go back to Afghanistan, can play a role in persuading militants to end violence and become part of a political reconciliation process.
But critics like former Pakistani ambassador to Kabul, Rustum Shah Mohmand, are skeptical about whether Taliban prisoners Islamabad has released or plans to release can be of any help to the Afghan peace efforts.
“Because the moment those people were arrested, the Taliban may have broken off all relations with those people. Only those Taliban who are free and who can speak their own voice without any pressure from any quarter, only those would be credible voices who would speak for the Afghan resistance,” said Rustum Shah Mohmand.
As NATO forces plan to terminate their combat mission in Afghanistan by the end of next year, U.S. officials consider the opening of a peace process key to ending violence in the country.
Special U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins told VOA earlier this week that Islamabad and Washington are working together to bring opposing Afghan sides to negotiate peace.
“We believe that the Afghan national security forces with continued support from NATO, from the United States, would be adequate to provide security in Afghanistan from 2015 forward. But clearly there will continue to be levels of violence, attacks on civilians and attacks on Afghan government forces until and unless there is a successful reconciliation process,” said Dobbins.
Mansoor Dadullah is the only known Afghan rebel commander included in the group that Pakistan released on Saturday. He is the younger brother of the Taliban’s overall military commander, Mullah Dadullah, who was killed in a NATO-led joint operation in southern Afghanistan six years ago.
But before he was arrested in Pakistan, younger Dadullah had already been fired by the Taliban for disobeying orders.
Pakistani authorities have given no reasons for detaining members of the Afghan insurgency. Pakistan helped the Taliban take control of Afghanistan in late 1996 and was one of three countries that recognized the five-year controversial rule of the Islamic group before a U.S.-led invasion ousted it from power for harboring the al-Qaida network in the country.