Pakistan agrees Afghan Taleban release

Updated 15 November 2012
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Pakistan agrees Afghan Taleban release

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has agreed to free some Afghan Taleban prisoners who could be useful in reconciliation efforts, officials from both countries said yesterday.
Afghan officials, hopeful that direct contacts with top Taleban 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 Taleban takeover if insurgents are not lured into a serious peace process before then.
“Pakistan has sent us a very strong message and Pakistan has agreed in principle to start releasing prisoners from today,” Abdul Hamid Mubarez, a member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, which is visiting Islamabad, told Reuters.
He did not say how many prisoners would be released but predicted the action would help advance the peace process.
Pakistan, with its historical ties to Afghan militant groups, is seen as critical to US 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 US efforts to stabilize Afghanistan as the endgame nears.
A senior Pakistani army official said it had not yet been decided if the former Afghan Taleban second in command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, would be released.
Afghan officials have identified him as a figure who may still command enough respect to persuade the Taleban to pursue peace.
The Pakistani army official declined to give any information about who was going to be released saying details had yet to be worked out.
The decision to release the prisoners was a major achievement for the Afghan High Peace Council, which has been struggling to ease mistrust between the Taleban and the Kabul government.
Afghan officials have suspected that Pakistan has been holding Afghan Taleban members in jail to retain some control over peace efforts and have a say in any settlement.
Those in detention include former Justice Minister Mullah Nooruddin Toorabi and Mullah Jahangirwal, former secretary of Taleban leader Mullah Omar and Allahdat Tayab, an ex-deputy minister, Afghan High Peace Council officials say.
“We have asked Pakistan to release them because they were the policy makers of the Taleban and close aides to Mullah Omar,” Habibullah Fawzi, a senior member of the Afghan peace team, told Reuters.
Their release could encourage a number of Taleban commanders and fighters to join peace efforts, he said. Afghan embassy officials in Islamabad said the names of about 10 Afghan Taleban militants had been floated.
Afghanistan’s government has failed to secure direct talks with the Taleban and no significant progress is expected before 2014, when most NATO combat troops withdraw, a senior Afghan official closely involved with reconciliation efforts told Reuters last week.
There has also been little progress on other fronts. The Taleban said in March they were suspending nascent peace talks with the United States held in Qatar, blaming “erratic and vague” US statements.


Leaders of two Koreas hold surprise meeting as Trump revives summit hopes

Updated 8 min 16 sec ago
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Leaders of two Koreas hold surprise meeting as Trump revives summit hopes

SEOUL/WASHINGTON: South Korean President Moon Jae-in held a surprise meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Saturday in an effort to ensure that a high-stakes summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump takes place successfully, South Korean officials said.
The meeting was the latest dramatic turn in a week of diplomatic flip-flops surrounding the prospects for an unprecedented summit between the United States and North Korea, and the strongest sign yet that the two Korean leaders are trying to keep the on-again off-again summit on track.
Their two hours of talks at the Panmunjom border village came a month after they held the first inter-Korean summit in more than a decade at the same venue. At that meeting, they declared they would work toward a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War.
“The two leaders candidly exchanged views about making the North Korea-US summit a successful one and about implementing the Panmunjom Declaration,” South Korea’s presidential spokesman said in a statement. He did not confirm how the meeting was arranged or which side asked for it.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment. But White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said an advance team of White House and US State Department officials would leave for Singapore on schedule this weekend to prepare for a possible summit there.
Reuters reported earlier this week that a US advance team was scheduled to discuss the agenda and logistics for the summit with North Korean officials.
“There is a very strong possibility a US-North Korea summit could be back on very soon,” said Harry Kazianis of the conservative Center for the National Interest think-tank in Washington.
Whether one takes place depends on Kim agreeing to some sort of a realistic and verifiable denuclearization plan, added Kazianis, citing his own Trump administration sources. “If not, no summit. That is what it hinges on,” he said.
TRUMP HAILS “PRODUCTIVE TALKS“
In a letter to Kim on Thursday, Trump had said he was canceling the summit planned for June 12 in Singapore, citing North Korea’s “open hostility.”
But on Friday he indicated the meeting could be salvaged after welcoming a conciliatory statement from Pyongyang.
“We’re talking to them now. They very much want to do it. We’d like to do it,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
In a tweet later, Trump cited “very productive talks” and said that if the summit were reinstated it would likely remain in Singapore on June 12, and that it could be extended if necessary.
A senior White House official told reporters on Thursday that organizing a summit by June 12 could be a challenge, given the amount of dialogue needed to ensure a clear agenda.
“And June 12 is in ... 10 minutes,” the official said.
If the summit is not held, some analysts warn that the prospect of a military confrontation between the two nations would rise, while a successful summit would mark Trump’s biggest foreign policy achievement.
The Trump administration is demanding that North Korea completely and irreversibly shutter its nuclear weapons program. Kim and Trump’s initial decision to meet followed months of war threats and insults between the leaders over the program.
Pyongyang has conducted six nuclear tests, and has developed a long-range missile that could theoretically hit anywhere in the United States. Experts, however, are doubtful that North Korea possesses a warhead capable of surviving the stresses of re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.
Video and a photo released by South Korea’s presidential Blue House on Saturday showed Kim hugging Moon and kissing him on the cheek three times as he saw Moon off after their meeting at Tongilgak, the North’s building in the truce village, which lies in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) — the 2.5-mile (4 km) wide buffer that runs along the heavily armed military border.
Video footage also showed Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, greeting Moon as he arrived at Tongilgak and shaking hands, before the South Korean leader entered the building flanked by North Korean military guards.
Moon is the only South Korean leader to have met a North Korean leader twice, both times in the DMZ, which is a symbol of the unending hostilities between the nations after the Korean War ended in 1953 in a truce, not a peace treaty.