Pakistan releases Taliban prisoners in bid to ease Afghan peace process

Release comes a week after Afghan and Pakistani president met in Islamabad for talks

Pakistan releases seven senior Taliban figures to facilitate a peace process with Afghanistan.

Pakistan has announced the release of seven senior Taliban figures to facilitate a peace process aimed at reaching a political resolution to the war in neighboring Afghanistan, the foreign ministry said.

"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," it said in a statement.

"These releases are in addition to 26 Taliban detainees released during the last year," it added.

The Saturday statement did not make clear if the releases had already happened or were in the process of happening.

Pakistan didn't give any details. It is not clear why Islamabad, which has historical ties with the Afghan Taliban but which is battling its own branch of the militant movement, had arrested the men originally.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai was in Pakistan for two days last week and met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for the first time since Sharif's election in May.

Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder, reporting from Karachi, said, "Karzai flew in amid high tensions and demanded the release of some of the Taliban leadership still under custody in Pakistan."

"On the list was the number two of the group when he was arrested. However there is no mention of his name as one of the seven released by Pakistan."

"What Afghanistan wants to do is hold talks with these released prisoners and see whether or not they can get the mainstream Taliban leadership to the negotiating table."

Infuriated by the opening in June of a Taliban office in Qatar, considered a precursor towards talks with US officials, Karzai wants Pakistan to help open dialogue with the armed group.

Limited influence

But analysts doubt whether Pakistan has the influence to force the Taliban to the negotiating table, and the group has publicly refused all contact with Karzai's government, branding it a US puppet.

Karzai said Afghanistan expected Pakistan to provide "opportunities or a platform for talks between the Afghan High Peace Council", Kabul's official negotiators, and the Taliban.

In the past, the Afghan leader has identified Taliban havens in Pakistan as the main cause of increased violence in his country.

Afghan government peace negotiators accompanying Karzai earlier called for the release of the most senior Taliban figure detained in Pakistan, former deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Afghan officials believe former detainees may talk to the Kabul government, although observers say there is little evidence those hopes have been realized.

Elements of the Pakistani state are widely accused of funding, controlling and sheltering the Taliban.

Islamabad says publicly it will do anything to stop the fighting in Afghanistan.

Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul said Thursday that fears of a resurgent Taliban when the bulk of Western forces withdraw from Afghanistan next year were overblown.

Around 87,000 US-led NATO troops are to leave Afghanistan next year, putting the country's police and troops in charge of security nationwide.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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