As part of the ‘safe passage’ component of the Afghan reconciliation process, Pakistan has released a key Afghan Taliban commander and 13 mid-level leaders in two phases, The Express Tribune learnt on Thursday.
Sources confirmed that Anwar Haq Mujahid – a prominent commander of the militant group – was among those freed on Thursday. Mujahid’s name is on the list submitted to Pakistan by the Afghan authorities. Sources close to Mujahid in Peshawar also confirmed to The Express Tribune that he had been freed and was scheduled to join his family on Thursday night.
Mujahid was appointed head of his own faction of the Hezb-e-Islami after the demise of his father Maulvi Younus Khalis, a known militant leader in eastern Afghanistan. He was detained in Peshawar in June 2009 and was a member of the Taliban military council and the commander of the Tora Bora Military Front in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.
The transfer took place in two phases: Nine Taliban leaders were set free the day the 18-member Afghan Peace Council (APC), led by Salahuddin Rabbani, wound up his four-day visit on Thursday and left for Kabul.
“Four more were freed ahead of the High Peace Council’s visit as a confidence building measure,” he added.
Although the top Afghan interlocutor’s visit was originally scheduled to be a three-day one, it was extended by another day, a source revealed.
The APC had listed four Taliban leaders including Mujahid and Mulla Baradar, former second in command in the Taliban. Baradar was arrested in Karachi in February 2010 and was head of the Taliban’s political and military affairs until his arrest.
The list submitted by Kabul also includes Nooruddin Turabi, who served as a justice minister during the Taliban rule (1996-2001). Turabi, a close confidant of Taliban chief Mulla Muhammad Omar, is believed to be in his 60s. He had lost one eye and a leg in the war against the Soviets.
The list includes a popular Taliban leader Abdul Ahad – who uses the name of Jehangirwal – and had served as a special assistant to Mulla Omar. A Taliban leader told The Express Tribune that Jehangirwal had been working in Mulla Omar’s office but had never been on a senior position.
Sources added that the Afghan government had submitted a list of nearly 40 Taliban prisoners to the Pakistani authorities. Pakistan has agreed in principle to release all the prisoners demanded by the Afghan government but will go ahead with the plan in various stages.
Sources privy to the reconciliation process said that the freed militants will not be handed over to the Afghan government in accordance to the agreement between the Pakistani and Afghan peace mediators.
Both countries have agreed in principle that there will be no restrictions on the freed Taliban leaders and they can rejoin families either in Pakistan or go to Afghanistan or any other country under the ‘safe passage’ mechanism.
“They will not be stopped by any country and will not be arrested,” a source involved in the talks said.
Both the countries have also agreed to form a small bilateral group for establishing contact with the Taliban.
A member of the Afghan Peace Council, Abdul Waheed Mubariz, said that Pakistan’s move of releasing the Taliban prisoners will not benefit Afghanistan alone but also the Taliban since they can reintegrate in the society.
Mubariz told reporters in Islamabad that the release of the Taliban detainees will also encourage more members of the militant outfit to come to the negotiation table and to join in the political efforts. He said the Taliban could take part in the 2014 elections and field their candidate.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 16th, 2012.