Pakistan to free Taliban prisoners
Move aimed at advancing peace talks
ISLAMABAD – Pakistan announced Saturday it was releasing seven more Taliban prisoners in a diplomatic overture designed to help end nearly 12 years of war in neighboring Afghanistan, but doubts linger over whether the men will actually help advance peace negotiations or simply head back to the battlefield.
Some 26 other Taliban detainees have been released by Pakistan over the last year in a policy that has come under criticism partly because some of them are believed to have returned to the fight.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs identified the seven detainees as Mansoor Dadullah, Said Wali, Abdul Manan, Karim Agha, Sher Afzal, Gul Muhammad and Muhammad Zai. Authorities have not said on what charges they had arrested the men originally.
The most well-known among them is Dadullah, a commander in southern Afghanistan who was captured in February 2008 by Pakistani forces in the Baluchistan province. According to the Long War Journal, which tracks militant activity in the two countries, Dadullah took over from his brother who was killed by British special forces in Helmand province in 2007. The brother was infamous for kidnapping people and often beheading his victims.
Rahimullah Yousufzai, a Pakistani journalist and expert on the Taliban, said he doubted Saturday’s announced release would do much toward ending the war, considering the seven men were smaller players than the 26 already set free. Following the visit of Afghan President Hamid Karzai two weeks ago to discuss the peace negotiations, he said, Pakistan had to “give something.”
“Mr. Karzai came to Pakistan with great expectations,” he said. “Pakistan had to give something.”
Pakistan is seen as key to the peace process because of its strong historical ties with the Taliban. But Pakistan and Afghanistan have long had troubled relations and view each other with suspicion. Kabul has repeatedly accused Islamabad of providing sanctuary for the insurgents.
Previous prisoner releases caused friction with Kabul and Washington, which were both frustrated that Pakistan was not monitoring the whereabouts and activities of the former inmates.
At least some of the released militants are believed to have rejoined the insurgency, underscoring how difficult it will be to reach a political settlement before the end of next year when most U.S. troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan.
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