Pakistan has released nine prisoners of the former Taliban regime on Afghanistan’s request to indicate its support for the peace process, officials said Thursday.
According to TOLOnews sources, the nine men released include only one military commander with the rest all formerly holding political office – a sign that their liberation is aimed at encouraging political negotiations.
The eight political members understood to have been released are the former Taliban justice minister Mullah Nooruddin Toorabi, Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s former secretary Mullah Jahangirwal, former deputy minister of communications Allahdat Tayab, former governor of Baghlan Abdul Salaam, former Kunduz governor Maulawi Mohammad, and two former government officials Haji Kotob and Maulawi Matiullah.
Former senior Taliban commander Sayed Sahaduddin Agha is also believed to be free.
It is expected that the nine will return to Afghanistan but this could not be confirmed.
Pakistan’s decision to release the prisoners was made during the three-day visit of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council (HPC) to Islamabad this week more than a year after talks were suspended between the two nations over the assassination of the previous HPC chief Burnahuddin Rabbani.
Rabbani’s son and current HPC chairman Salahuddin Rabbani led the delegation. On his return to Kabul he said the visit was promising.
“We are hopeful of close cooperation between the two countries because peace in Afghanistan is peace in Pakistan. We are sure that we can work together to bring stability to Afghanistan,” he said Thursday.
Pakistani officials called on Afghanistan to also do its part to bring stability to the region.
“Pakistan supports the peaceful initiatives of Afghanistan and I appreciate these new initiatives of Mr Salahuddin,” Pakistan Interior minister Rahman Malik said Wednesday.
Officials in both countries agreed in a statement to hold a meeting with religious scholars to preach the forbidden, or haram, nature of suicide attacks under the teachings of Islam.
“The [High Peace] Council agreed with the Pakistan government on this issue. The meeting will be in Afghanistan or Pakistan or in Saudi Arabia,” HPC Deputy Mawlawee Attaullah Loudin said.
They also made a joint call for some Taliban leaders to be removed from the sanctions list of the United Nations.
However, the outcome of the visit has its detractors with some Afghan lawmakers distrusting Pakistan’s commitment to peace.
“You are a witness: Pakistan was not honest in fighting terrorism and I don’t believe that Pakistan will cooperate in the peace talks,” Herat MP Ahmad Behzad told TOLOnews.
A Taliban official in northwest Pakistan told newswire AFP that the release of the prisoners was a symbolic gesture as the prisoners were no longer Taliban members.
“All those that are being freed are not members of Taliban any more, they have been dismissed and they’re not important,” the Taliban official, who was not named, told AFP.
He repeated the Taliban statements that they will not negotiate with the Afghan government and that any talks will only take place with the United States.