Pakistan on Wednesday released several Afghan Taliban captives, a gesture meant to nudge along on-again, off-again reconciliation talks aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan, Pakistani officials said.
The release of the prisoners—described as mid- and low-level fighters—is the most encouraging sign yet that Islamabad may be willing to play a constructive role in peace efforts that have made little headway since they began some four years ago, hobbled by distrust among the major players involved, including the United States.
Pakistan is seen as key to the process because of its historical ties to the Taliban and because many of the group’s leaders are believed to be based on Pakistani territory, having fled there following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
“It is a gesture of support for the Afghanistan reconciliation process,” a Pakistani military official said. While this official said upwards of 10 prisoners were released, another security official put the number at seven or eight prisoners, who had been held at different jails around the country.
Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani army general and defense analyst, said the prisoner release would improve the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, increasing the chances they could work together to strike a peace deal with the Taliban.
“It will improve the trust level and confidence,” Mr. Masood said. “It will help Kabul find a genuine solution to the problem.”
“I am sure the released Taliban can play some part in making the peace process a success,” he said.
Wednesday’s release of the Taliban militants came in response to a personal request by Salahuddin Rabbani, the head of an Afghan government council for peace talks with the Taliban, said a Pakistani government official and an intelligence official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media about the release.
In the meantime two Pakistani officials, who spoke anonymously because they are not authorized to be named as spokesmen, said Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former Taliban second-in-command behind Mullah Mohammad Omar, was not be among the prisoners to be released.
Barader, who was captured in Karachi in 2010, is considered close enough to Omar to hold some sway in efforts to bring peace. Omar broke off talks with U.S. officials earlier this year.