Pakistan Frees Former Taliban Officials to Promote Afghan Peace

Pakistan released eight more members of Afghanistan’s Taliban movement, including former regional governors and ministers, as it bids to help create conditions for substantial negotiations with insurgents.

Those freed from detention included Abdul Bari, former governor of southern Helmand province, ex-justice minister Nooruddin Turabi, and Mullah Daud Jan, former governor of Kabul, the foreign office said in a statement last night. U.S. forces ousted the Taliban government led by Mullah Mohammad Omar in 2001. Omar is believed is based in Pakistan. Former deputy leader and top military commander Abdul Ghani Baradar, detained in 2010 in Karachi, was not among those released.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are pursuing a new peace initiative that would permit members of the Taliban to be removed from the United Nations terrorist list to join negotiations and hold Afghan government posts. The push for talks has become more urgent as the U.S.-led international coalition prepares to pull its combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

The five-step blueprint, entitled “Peace Process Roadmap to 2015,” was initiated by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in coordination with Pakistan and formally presented to Pakistani officials in November, according to the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, Azizullah Din Mohammad, a senior council member.

Quetta Base

The plan may not attract hard-line Taliban leaders who have demanded the withdrawal of all foreign troops as a key condition to start negotiations and have previously refused to deal with Karzai’s administration, according to analysts, including Islamabad-based Talat Masood, a retired Pakistan army lieutenant general.

Pakistan freed 18 Taliban prisoners in November, according to yesterday’s statement.

The Afghan government has long considered Pakistan a hindrance to peace because the Taliban and other militant Islamist groups have bases there and receive financing from the Persian Gulf and elsewhere through Pakistani channels.

The U.S. and Afghanistan have long sought Pakistan’s help in facilitating talks with the Taliban, whose leadership they allege is hiding in and around the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta in Baluchistan, a province that borders Afghanistan. Pakistan denies charges that its military protects senior insurgent commanders in a bid to maintain influence over Afghanistan’s future and oppose India’s growing role there.

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