Pakistan agrees to free several Afghan Taleban prisoners

Updated 14 November 2012
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Pakistan agrees to free several Afghan Taleban prisoners

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has agreed to free some Afghan Taleban prisoners that could be useful in reconciliation efforts, officials from both countries said on Wednesday, the clearest sign that Islamabad will put its weight behind the troubled Afghan peace process.
Afghan officials, hopeful that direct contacts with top Taleban commanders could give them strong leverage in any peace talks, have long urged Pakistan for access to prisoners.
“We aren’t too certain whether they can play an important role in peace negotiations but it is a positive gesture from Pakistan in helping peace efforts,” an Afghan official told Reuters. He said it was not clear when the release would occur.
It is also not clear why Pakistan made the gesture at this time.
But Islamabad, which has a long history of ties to Afghan insurgent groups, has come under growing pressure to support US efforts to stabilize Afghanistan before NATO combat troops leave by the end of 2014.
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 after more than a decade of fighting US-led NATO and Afghan forces.
A political settlement between the Afghan government and the insurgents is widely seen as the best way of delivering stability to the country before most NATO combat troops pull out at the end of 2014.
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 Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, which is in Islamabad to push for Taleban releases and has been struggling to ease mistrust between the Taleban and the Kabul government.
NO PROGRESS
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.
Some of them include former Justice Minister Mullah Nooruddin Toorabi and Mullah Jahangirwal, former secretary of Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, Afghan High Peace Council officials say.
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.
Even if the release of the Afghan Taleban prisoners does not produce breakthroughs, it could improve Pakistan’s image and bolster its argument that it is committed to stabilising Afghanistan.
Afghan officials have often seen Pakistan as a reluctant partner in attempts to broker talks with the Taleban.
Afghan and US officials accuse Pakistan of using insurgent groups, including the highly lethal Haqqani network, as proxies in Afghanistan to counter the influence of rival India. Pakistan rejects that.
Afghanistan has been known to want access to Taleban leaders belonging to the so-called Quetta Shoura, or council, named after the Pakistani city where they are believed to be based.
Pakistan has consistently denied giving sanctuary to insurgents and says no Taleban leaders are in Quetta.


New Zealand envoy headed to Turkey to ‘confront’ Erdogan’s mosque shooting comments

Updated 22 min 15 sec ago
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New Zealand envoy headed to Turkey to ‘confront’ Erdogan’s mosque shooting comments

  • President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would make the suspected attacker pay if New Zealand did not
  • His comments came at a campaign rally that included video footage of the shootings

SYDNEY: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday Foreign Minister Winston Peters will travel to Turkey to “confront” comments made by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on the killing of at least 50 people at mosques in Christchurch.
Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after a lone gunman opened fire at the two mosques during Friday prayers.
Erdogan — who is seeking to drum up support for his Islamist-rooted AK Party in March 31 local elections — said Turkey would make the suspected attacker pay if New Zealand did not.
The comments came at a campaign rally that included video footage of the shootings which the alleged gunman had broadcast on Facebook.
Ardern said Peters would seek urgent clarification.
“Our deputy prime minister will be confronting those comments in Turkey,” Ardern told reporters in Christchurch. “He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face.”
Peters had earlier condemned the airing of footage of the shooting, which he said could endanger New Zealanders abroad.
Despite Peters’ intervention, an extract from Tarrant’s alleged manifesto was flashed up on a screen at Erdogan’s rally again on Tuesday, along with footage of the gunman entering one of the mosques and shooting as he approached the door.
Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he summoned Turkey’s ambassador for a meeting, during which he demanded Erdogan’s comments be removed from Turkey’s state broadcaster.
“I will wait to see what the response is from the Turkish government before taking further action, but I can tell you that all options are on the table,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
Morrison said Australia’s ambassador to Turkey will on Wednesday meet with the members of Erdogan’s government.
Morrison said Canberra is also reconsidering its travel advice for Australians planning trips to Turkey.
Relations between Turkey, New Zealand and Australia have generally been good. Thousands of Australians and New Zealanders travel each year to Turkey for war memorial services.
Just over a century ago, thousands of soldiers from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) struggled ashore on a narrow beach at Gallipoli during an ill-fated campaign that would claim more than 130,000 lives.
The area has become a site of pilgrimage for visitors who honor their nations’ fallen in graveyards halfway around the world on ANZAC Day every April 25.