Pakistan released on Monday eight more Afghan Taliban prisoners – including former justice minister Mullah Nooruddin Turabi – in an effort to facilitate the fledgling peace process in Afghanistan.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Moazzam Ali Khan confirmed to The Express Tribune that more Taliban were freed on Monday, but would not provide their names and the exact number. “The decision is continuation of our efforts to facilitate the reconciliation process in Afghanistan,” he said.
Another government official put the number of freed Taliban at eight. “They include former Taliban justice minister Nooruddin Turabi and ex-governor of Helmand province Abdul Bari,” the official told The Express Tribune on condition that he would not be named in the report.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also confirmed the release. Two sources close to the Taliban added that the freed men did not include former Taliban No 2 Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Mullah Baradar was captured in 2010 and Pakistani officials have said in the past that no decision has been taken for his release.
The released prisoners include the Taliban’s former deputy minister for communication Allah Dad, governor of Helmand under the Taliban regime Mullah Abdul Bari, ex governor Mir Ahmed Gul and a former guard of Taliban chief Muhammad Azeem, sources said.
Turabi’s poor health
Turabi is said to be in poor health. According to the UN website, he was appointed Taliban military commander in Afghanistan in mid-2009 and was a deputy to Taliban supremo Mullah Omar.
Pakistan released at least nine mid-ranking Afghan Taliban cadres last month, officials said.
At follow-up talks between Pakistani and Afghan officials, Islamabad agreed to release more Taliban to facilitate efforts to end the 11-year conflict in Afghanistan.
Afghan officials have said that senior Taliban cadres held in Pakistan could help bring militants to the negotiating table, if released from jail, to end the war as US-led Nato troops prepare to withdraw in 2014. Support from Pakistan is seen as crucial to peace in Afghanistan after Nato’s departure.
A senior Afghan official said the figures freed from detention in Pakistan on Monday were close to Mullah Omar and could help Kabul with peace efforts, a senior Afghan official said on Monday.
“Their release will certainly have a positive impact on the mindsets of other senior Taliban, especially on field commanders who took orders from them for years,” the official who is close to reconciliation efforts, told Reuters.
The Taliban refuse 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 detention centre in Cuba.
(WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM AGENCIES)
Published in The Express Tribune, January 1st, 2013.