Pakistan agrees Afghan Taliban releases in Islamabad talks
Pakistan has agreed to free several jailed Afghan Taliban officials during talks in Islamabad with Afghan peace negotiators, officials say.

Afghan sources told the BBC the former Taliban justice minister Mullah Turabi and two intelligence officials are among the group to be freed.

One Afghan official described the move as a positive gesture towards peace.

Pakistan says it backs Afghan peace efforts and releasing the prisoners is a tangible step to prove it.

The BBC's Orla Guerin in Islamabad says that, crucially, it appears that the Taliban number two, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is not among those being released - at least for now.

Afghan officials describe him as someone who may still command enough respect to persuade the Taliban to pursue peace after more than 10 years of fighting US-led Nato and Afghan forces.
'Positive gesture'

Analysts say the releases are significant and the hope now is that when the Taliban officials return home, they can influence others to enter talks.

Afghan officials have long lobbied for the release of Taliban prisoners by Pakistan in the hope that direct contacts with top insurgent commanders could boost peace talks.

"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 the Reuters news agency.
Haqqani network militant (file photo) Pakistan has been accused of backing insurgent groups in Afghanistan

Officials say that it is not clear when the releases will occur and the details are still being worked out.

A political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban is widely seen by analysts as the most effective way of delivering stability to Afghanistan before most Nato troops withdraw at the end of 2014.

In March, the Taliban suspended preliminary peace negotiations with the US, saying that Washington's efforts to involve the Afghan authorities were a key stumbling block.

Correspondents say that Wednesday's announcement is a major achievement for Afghanistan's High Peace Council, which is in Islamabad to campaign for Taliban releases and has been struggling to reduce mistrust between the Taliban and the government in Kabul.

The 70-member peace council was set up more than two years ago by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to open negotiations with insurgents.

It was given the task of reaching out to hundreds of Taliban field commanders, but it has consistently failed to woo any senior figures away from the insurgency.

In May, Arsala Rahmani, a key member of the council, was shot dead in Kabul in an attack blamed on the Taliban. Officials said it was a major blow to President Karzai.

In September 2011, the chief of the council, Burhannudin Rabbani, was killed by a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban peace envoy.

Both Afghan and American officials have often accused Pakistan of backing insurgent groups - including the Haqqani network - as its proxies in Afghanistan to counter the influence of its rival India.

But Pakistan has rejected those claims.

Earlier this month, however, the UN Security Council's Taliban sanctions committee added the Haqqani network to its blacklist.
Last Modified: 2012-11-14 09:42:27
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