Pakistan Releases Eight Afghan Taliban Prisoners

ISLAMABAD (AP) -

Pakistan released eight members of the Afghan Taliban from prison on Monday, including the former justice minister under the Taliban, in a bid to boost the peace process in neighboring Afghanistan, the government said.

Pakistan is seen as a lynchpin in efforts to bring about peace in Afghanistan as foreign troops plan to depart the country in 2014. Kabul has been pressing its neighbor to release more prisoners who they hope would bring the Taliban to the negotiating table before the U.S. troops go home.

The Pakistanis appear to have an interest in promoting peace across the border, as a resumption of the civil war there could bring harsh consequences on its side as well.

“We have released some more Taliban prisoners today as our help in the peace process in Afghanistan,” Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Moazzam Khan said.

In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said eight detainees were released, including Nooruddin Turabi, the justice minister under the Taliban.

Mohammad Azeem, a former guard of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, was also among those released, according to a Taliban official. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters about the sensitive subject.

It was not clear what role the eight released prisoners might play in bringing Taliban leaders to the negotiating table or what links they have to the group’s current leadership.

Pakistan has longstanding ties to the Taliban and its support is key to any future reconciliation, just as its opposition would likely block any progress.

Last month, Pakistan released 18 prisoners at the request of the Afghan High Peace Council, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said in its statement. In early December it promised to release more members of the group.

Both developments were seen as signs that Pakistan, long accused of backing terrorists, was supporting a new push to bring peace to a country with which it shares a long border and tumultuous history. The Afghan and U.S. governments accuse Islamabad of backing insurgents — an allegation Pakistan denies — and say many terrorist leaders are hiding in the country.