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Conflicting Reports About Possible Pakistan Taliban Prisoner Deal

November 14, 2012
by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan

There are conflicting reports about a possible deal between Islamabad and Kabul on releasing Afghan Taliban prisoners from Pakistani custody.

A Pakistani Foreign Ministry official refused to confirm reports that Islamabad has agreed to free several jailed Taliban militants.

Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, a senior official of the Afghan Peace Council, told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan that he was cautiously optimistic about the talks with Pakistani officials.

Stanekzai said discussions over Afghan Taliban prisoners were part of the talks with Pakistani officials but the two sides had not struck a deal yet.

"One of the issues under discussion is that of cooperation in the [Afghan] peace process. And within that [framework] we are discussing the issue of Afghan [Taliban] prisoners here," Stanekzai said.

"We are talking about this issue and will announce its final outcome whenever we have it."

Western news agencies, however, have reported that several Afghan Taliban insurgents have already been released in Pakistan.

Reports say up to seven Taliban members have been released. They are described as mid- and low-level fighters.

Seeking Peace Talks

The Afghan delegation, headed by Salahuddin Rabbani, is in Islamabad seeking the release of senior Taliban leaders including commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was arrested in Pakistan's southern city of Karachi in February 2010.

The peace process in Afghanistan will mainly depend on possible talks between the Afghan government and leaders of the Taliban insurgency, some of whom are based in Pakistan.

Baradar is considered a key figure capable of winning over a large number of Taliban insurgents.

Washington and its allies fighting in Afghanistan are pushing for a peace deal with the Taliban so they can pull out most of their troops by the end of 2014 without the country descending into further chaos.

But earlier this year, the Taliban pulled out of direct contacts with Washington after the insurgents established a contact office in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar.

Now Pakistan is seen as key to reviving the peace process.

Islamabad has ties to the Taliban that date back to the 1990s.

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.

With reporting by Reuters, BBC, and Al-Jazeera

Source: free-taliban-prisoners/24770362.html

Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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