Pakistan agrees to free more Afghan Taliban to expedite peace process
Pakistan has agreed to release another batch of Taliban prisoners in a bid to facilitate peace talks between insurgents and the Afghan government, according to a joint Foreign Ministry statement.
The announcement came after talks in Islamabad between visiting Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul and his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar, reports the Daily Times.
The number of prisoners to be released was not specified, but is not thought to include the Taliban's former deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was captured in 2010.
The joint statement said both sides agreed the "release of more prisoners, facilitating contacts and urging the Taliban to renounce ties to al Qaeda".
It was the second high-level delegation to visit Pakistan this month to press for the release of Taliban prisoners in a bid to kickstart peace efforts. Talks two weeks ago between Pakistan and Afghanistan's High Peace Council resulted in the release of nine Taliban militants.
Afghan officials believe senior Taliban leaders held in Pakistan could help bring militants to the negotiating table, if released from jail, to end over a decade of war ahead of the 2014 pull-out of US-led NATO troops.
"I hope that we will continue to implement other concrete measures in a timely manner and push the peace process forward... so that all those who can help advance the peace process go free," Rassoul said.
The Taliban, leading an 11-year insurgency since the 2001 US-led invasion, has welcomed the releases, but refuses to negotiate directly with Kabul, calling the government of President Hamid Karzai a US puppet.
Preliminary contacts between the US and the Taliban in Doha were broken off in March when the militants failed to secure the release of five of their comrades held at the Guantanamo Bay prison on the US base in Cuba. Support from Pakistan, which backed the 1996-2001 Taliban regime in Kabul, is seen as crucial to peace in Afghanistan after the departure of NATO forces.