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.


World leaders at UN look for progress on N.Korea, brace for Trump

Updated 49 min 16 sec ago
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World leaders at UN look for progress on N.Korea, brace for Trump

  • About 130 heads of state and government are turning up for the six-day marathon of speeches and meetings
  • Unpredictable Trump takes the podium on Tuesday to face foes and increasingly uneasy allies at the UN General Assembly

UNITED NATIONS, USA: North Korea and Iran will dominate this week’s gathering of world leaders at the United Nations, where President Donald Trump will be in the spotlight as he continues to upend global diplomacy.
After warming up to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and ditching the Iran nuclear deal, the unpredictable Trump takes the podium on Tuesday to face foes and increasingly uneasy allies at the UN General Assembly.
On Wednesday, he will for the first time chair a Security Council meeting on non-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction that will focus heavily on Iran — likely triggering a clash with other big powers.
“It will be the most watched Security Council meeting ever,” US Ambassador Nikki Haley said of Trump’s first time wielding the gavel.
The diplomatic gathering will take stock of the thaw in relations between North and South Korea, and groundbreaking US-North Korea moves to address the threat from Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Last year, world leaders shuddered when Trump threatened to totally destroy North Korea and belittled Kim as “Rocket Man” who was “on a suicide mission.”
An exchange of insults ensued, with Kim calling out the “mentally deranged US dotard.”


Trump’s address to the assembly will be the “polar opposite of what we heard last year,” said Suzanne DiMaggio, an expert on North Korea and Iran at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The president will tout his June face-to-face with Kim as a major diplomatic win but “he should think twice if he plans to repeat his claim that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat,” she said.
Despite the Trump-Kim landmark summit in Singapore, there has been little concrete progress on denuclearization.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho has been invited by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for talks on the sidelines of the assembly meeting. Ri is scheduled to deliver his address on September 29.
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in will encourage Trump to press on with the rapprochement, but the US president is likely to get a different message from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has taken a tough stance on maintaining sanctions pressure on Pyongyang.
When he takes the podium shortly after Trump on Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will meanwhile address the fall-out from the US decision to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal which lifted international sanctions in exchange for curbs to Iran’s nuclear program.
European countries along with Russia and China are still working to salvage the accord and will use the council meeting chaired by Trump to defend what they consider a milestone in non-proliferation.
“The members of the Security Council are not going to take kindly to being lectured by President Trump on the subject of Iran,” said DiMaggio.
“These very countries, which include our closest allies, are now facing US sanctions as they scramble to save the agreement.”
Pompeo reiterated Sunday that Trump is willing to meet Rouhani as part of a “constructive dialogue” — but added on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that that seemed unlikely at present.
In a weekend op-ed in the Washington Post, Rouhani charged that Trump’s offer of direct talks was not “genuine” and came with a list of “openly insulting pre-conditions.”
And Haley — while she condemned “any terrorist attack” after the deadly assault on a military parade in southwest Iran — urged Rouhani to acknowledge popular discontent.
“He has oppressed his people for a long time,” Haley told CNN on Sunday.
The UN rendezvous takes place during a sharp divide between the United States, accused of turning its back on multilateralism, and countries that view the global rules-based order as their best hope to tackle the world’s problems.
Struggling with tighter budgets from US cuts, the United Nations has been put on the defensive as its peace efforts in Syria, Libya and Yemen fall short.
“Multilateralism is under attack from many different directions precisely when we need it most,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.
About 130 heads of state and government are turning up for the six-day marathon of speeches and meetings on tackling a long list of issues from climate change to poverty.
Russia and China will be represented by their foreign ministers.
Among those making their debut on the world stage will be Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has signed a historic peace deal with Eritrea, Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa and Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel.