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Pakistan Frees More Afghan Taliban Prisoners

Pakistan says it has released seven more Afghan Taliban prisoners to facilitate peace and political reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan.

Saturday's announcement comes less than two weeks after Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Islamabad and demanded the release of all Taliban leaders detained in Pakistan without any criminal charges facing them.

The latest release adds to 26 Taliban detainees freed late last year.

The Afghan leadership believes Taliban members detained in neighboring Pakistan could play a role in persuading militants to end violence if freed and allowed to return to Afghanistan.

But critics, including former Pakistani ambassador to Kabul, Rustum Shah Mohmand, are skeptical about whether Taliban prisoners released by Islamabad can be of any help to Afghanistan's peace efforts.

Pakistani authorities have given no reasons for detaining members of the Afghan insurgency.

Afghan leaders have long alleged that Pakistan shelters top Taliban commanders and that the country's spy agency, ISI, helps the insurgents plan cross-border attacks on local and U.S.-led coalition forces.

Pakistan helped the Taliban take control of Afghanistan in late 1996 and was one of three countries that recognized its controversial five-year rule before the 2001 U.S.-led invasion ousted the Islamic group from power. But Pakistan denies allegations it has helped Taliban insurgents during the war.

Now, as NATO forces prepare to end their combat mission in Afghanistan by the close of next year, the focus is on reconciliation efforts aimed at ending the 12-year conflict.

Pakistan says it helped more than two dozen Taliban representatives travel to Qatar to open a political office in June as part of a U.S. peace plan to give the insurgency a place where they can engage in talks.

But the fanfare surrounding the opening ceremony and a proposed direct meeting between the Taliban and American officials upset President Karzai and caused him to boycott the peace process.

Afghan authorities have now demanded Pakistan use the same influence to facilitate a direct meeting between Taliban representatives and members of the Afghan Peace Council.

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