Pakistan agrees to free several Afghan Taleban prisoners

Updated 14 November 2012

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.


Pakistan influence over Taliban can help, envoy says

Updated 11 min 27 sec ago

Pakistan influence over Taliban can help, envoy says

  • Progress of talks has been slow and rising violence has sapped trust

ISLAMABAD: The Afghan President’s Special Envoy for Pakistan Mohammed Umer Daudzai said on Wednesday that Pakistan should use its influence over the Taliban to help break a deadlock in peace talks between the insurgent group and Kabul, but warned that Islamabad should push the Taliban to support democracy.
Talks between an Afghan government delegation and the Taliban have been ongoing in Doha since mid-September, but progress has been slow and rising violence has sapped trust.
According to the UN, nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians have been killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban insurgents rages on despite efforts to find peace.
The peace talks follow a deal in February between the USs and the Taliban that will pave the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, who agreed to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula with Kabul.
“We are pleased at the agreement between the Taliban and the US; it has proved that Pakistan has influence on the Taliban,” Daudzai told Arab News.
“Since they have influence, so they should also help us. This is our expectation. Pakistan has not refused to help us. They have also not denied their influence (on the Taliban).”
Neighboring Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan has for years been ambiguous — it is a US ally but is also accused of supporting the Taliban as its proxy in Afghanistan, part of its wider jockeying with regional rival India. Islamabad denies this. It also insists its influence with the Taliban has waned over the years.
“Pakistani leaders know our position as what do we want, what do we expect from them. But when and how will they do that is up to them.
But we want urgent actions,” Daudzai said, adding that the Afghan government expected Pakistan to support democracy in Afghanistan.
He said Prime Minister Imran Khan would hold “detailed discussions” on the peace process with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani when they met in Kabul later this year.