Islamabad - Pakistan is releasing seven more Taliban
prisoners to facilitate a peace process aimed at reaching a political
resolution to the war in neighbouring Afghanistan, the ministry of foreign affairs
announced on Saturday.
The statement did not make clear if the releases had
already happened or were in the process of happening.
About 26 other Taliban detainees have been released over
the last year in an attempt to revive the troubled process, but some have
questioned whether those freed have enough influence to convince the Taliban to
negotiate. There are also concerns that some of the released men may be
returning to the fight.
The ministry of foreign affairs identified the seven
Taliban detainees as Mansoor Dadullah, Said Wali, Abdul Manan, Karim Agha, Sher
Afzal, Gul Muhammad and Muhammad Zai.
It is not clear why Islamabad, which has historical ties
with the Afghan Taliban, but which is battling its own branch of the militant
movement, had arrested the men originally.
The most well-known among them appears to be Dadullah,
who was captured in February 2008 by Pakistani forces in Baluchistan.
But little information is known about the other six
detainees, the circumstances of their capture, and how long they've been in
Even Dadullah's status within the Afghan Taliban was not
The Long War Journal, which tracks militant activity in
Afghanistan and Pakistan, reported in 2008 that Dadullah had been relieved of
his command in southern Afghanistan by the Afghan Taliban leadership, although
Dadullah denied it.
The release comes less than two weeks after Afghan
President Hamid Karzai visited Pakistan to discuss the peace negotiations.
Pakistan is seen as key to the peace process because of
its strong historical ties with the Taliban. But Pakistan and Afghanistan have
long had troubled relations and view each other with suspicion, especially with
Kabul repeatedly accusing Islamabad of providing sanctuary for the insurgents.
It is unclear whether the prisoner release will actually
assist in the peace process.
Previous prisoner releases ended up causing friction with
Kabul - and Washington - which were both frustrated that Pakistan was not
monitoring the whereabouts and activities of the former inmates. At least some
of the released militants are believed to have rejoined the insurgency,
underscoring how difficult it will be to reach a political settlement before
the end of next year when most US troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan.
Also, Pakistan has not yet agreed to release its most
important Taliban prisoner, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the insurgent group's
former deputy commander.
Pakistan helped the Taliban seize control of Afghanistan
in 1996, and many insurgents fled across the border following the US-led
invasion in 2001.
Islamabad is widely believed to have maintained its ties
to the Taliban, despite official denials.
Pakistan has said it supports a peace agreement with the
Taliban as the best way to avoid Afghanistan descending into further chaos
after the US drawdown.
There are fears that instability in Afghanistan would
provide cover for domestic Taliban militants at war with the Pakistani state.
Those militants already have some sanctuaries in
Afghanistan and periodically stage cross-border attacks into Pakistan.
But Pakistan and Afghanistan may have trouble agreeing on
what role the Taliban should play in the country following a peace deal.