Facilitating Afghan peace: Pakistan frees another set of Taliban prisoners

Kabul hails move, calls for Mullah Baradar’s release.

Tahir Khan/kamran Yousaf September 08, 2013
Kabul hails move, calls for Mullah Baradar’s release. PHOTO: REUTERS


Pakistan has released seven Taliban prisoners in the latest of a series of concessions to Kabul, which could signal greater support for a peace deal in Afghanistan.

“In order to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process, Pakistan is releasing seven Taliban detainees namely Mansoor Dadullah, Said Wali, Abdul Manan, Karim Agha, Sher Afzal, Gul Muhammad and Muhammad Zai,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

“These releases are in addition to 26 Taliban detainees released during the last year,” it added. However, Islamabad has yet not decided the fate of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former chief military strategist of the ultraorthodox militia who Kabul believes can play an important role in the reconciliation process.

The decision to release the Taliban prisoners was made during last month’s visit of Afghan President Hamid Karzai who said his administration expected Pakistan to provide “opportunities or a platform for talks between the Afghan High Peace Council and the Taliban”.

A Pakistani government official confirmed the Taliban prisoners have been released at Karzai’s request. “This is likely to help break the deadlock in efforts to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table,” the official told The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity.

However, the Afghan government cautiously welcomed the releases.

“[This] is a positive but small step by the Pakistani government in support of our peace efforts in Afghanistan,” foreign ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai said in a statement issued in Kabul. “We expect more significant steps by Pakistan in the future, steps that Pakistani leaders can easily take if they so decide, such as the release of Mullah Baradar and other senior Taliban leaders,” he added.

While the Afghan High Peace Council did not issue an official statement, one of its members said the council was confused about the names of the freed Taliban figures.

“We doubt the names of the freed Taliban figured on the list the council had shared with the Pakistan government,” the council member told The Express Tribune on telephone. He also expressed disappointment that Mullah Baradar was not released.

Mullah Mansoor Dadullah is the brother of Mullah Dadullah Akhund, a senior Taliban commander who was killed by Nato troops in May 2007. Mullah Mansoor was arrested by Pakistani security forces in Balochistan in February 2008. He was earlier arrested by Nato troops, but was swapped along with four other Taliban prisoners
in exchange for Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo in May 2007.

Taliban supreme commander Mullah Omar had reportedly directed his followers against giving Mullah Mansoor any position within the militia after the latter detained some Taliban commanders and forced them to confess they played a role in his brother’s killing.

While the Taliban refrained from responding to the prisoner release, a splinter group, the Fidaye Mahaz – considered close to Mullah Mansoor – welcomed Saturday’s move.

According to Taliban sources, Karim Agha is the son of Mullah Zakiri, the head of the Taliban scholars’ council. He never held any position in the group, however. Sher Afzal was the Taliban commander in northern Kabul.  Sources also clarified that Abdul Manan is not the same as Abdul Manan Niazi, the former Taliban governor of Kabul. Also known by his alias Mullah Salam, Manan served as the shadow governor of the Kundoz province after the Taliban were dislodged from government, they said.

Pakistan first started releasing Taliban prisoners in November last year as part of efforts to jumpstart reconciliation efforts. It is believed that as many as 26 Taliban prisoners, including senior members of the militia, were released as part of this process.

The Taliban commanders freed by Pakistan in the past were reported to have been instrumental in bringing the insurgents to the negotiating table and leading to the opening of a Taliban ‘political office’ in Doha, Qatar.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2013.


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