KABUL: Afghan peace negotiators yesterday welcomed the release of eight Taliban prisoners who had been held in Pakistan, hailing the move as a significant boost to efforts to end 11 years of war.
The High Peace Council, set up to conduct negotiations with the Taliban, said the releases underlined that neighbouring Pakistan was supporting talks as US-led Nato combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan.
Support from Pakistan, which backed the 1996-2001 Taliban regime, is seen as crucial to peace in Afghanistan after Nato’s departure.
Former Taliban justice minister Nooruddin Turabi was among the eight freed on Monday, adding to 18 others released in November after appeals from Kabul.
Afghan officials believe Taliban leaders released from Pakistani jails could help bring militants to the negotiating table.
“It is a practical step in the right direction,” said Ismail Qasimyar, head of international relations for the peace council.
“It shows the Pakistani authorities have opened a new chapter for positive cooperation with Afghanistan.
“Pakistan can play an important role in bringing peace to Afghanistan. We welcome this move and hope those freed will become peace messengers,” he said.
But analysts say the freed men have little influence over current Taliban leaders and doubt whether they will even encourage them to open peace talks.
The Taliban refuse to talk directly with the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai, which it regards as a “puppet administration” of the United States.
The most senior Taliban figure detained in Pakistan, former deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar, has also not yet been released.
“So far none of those released have done anything significant,” said Waheed Mujda, a former civil servant in the Taliban government.