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Originally published September 7, 2013 at 2:53 PM | Page modified September 8, 2013 at 11:43 AM

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Afghanistan, Pakistan free Taliban prisoners

Pakistan is seen as key to the peace process in Afghanistan because of its strong historical ties with the Taliban.

The New York Times

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KABUL, Afghanistan — At least 18 Taliban prisoners, some of them prominent figures, were released by Pakistan and Afghanistan, with no guarantees that they would not rejoin the insurgency, Afghan and Pakistani officials said Saturday.

Pakistani officials said they were releasing seven Afghan Taliban prisoners to facilitate the peace process, while Afghan officials said they had requested the releases and welcomed the move.

Pakistan is seen as key to the peace process because of its strong historical ties with the Taliban. But Pakistan and Afghanistan have long had troubled relations and view each other with suspicion. The Afghan government has repeatedly accused Pakistan of providing sanctuary for the Taliban.

Afghan officials complained, meanwhile, that Pakistani officials had backed down on the expected release of one Taliban prisoner, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, formerly the top military commander of the Taliban movement. Afghan officials have long sought Baradar’s release, viewing him as crucial to restarting peace talks with the Taliban.

Separately, Afghan officials confirmed Saturday that on Friday they had begun exchanging 11 Taliban prisoners for the release of Fariba Ahmadi Kakar, a female member of the Afghan Parliament, who had been kidnapped by the Taliban last month, according to an Afghan official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

U.S. officials are known to have been concerned about plans to release Taliban prisoners without any guarantees to make sure they do not return to combat roles, but a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul declined to comment.

An official of the High Peace Council in Afghanistan said the Pakistanis would not release Baradar, citing opposition from the Americans, who had arrested him in a joint operation with Pakistani forces.

Mollawi Shahidullah Shahid, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, said the seven released by Pakistan were on a list provided by Afghan officials that included Baradar. “For some reason, Pakistani officials did not release him,” he said. “The others have been released, and no conditions have been set on where they go.”

Most were expected to return to their families in Pakistan, he said. “We believe that those Taliban released from Pakistani prisons are effective in the peace process and give a positive message to the Taliban as well,” Shahid said.

The releases were requested by President Hamid Karzai when he visited the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, for talks with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif two weeks ago.

Among those released was Mansoor Dadullah, the brother of Mullah Dadullah, a notorious Taliban commander killed in a U.S. airstrike. Mansoor Dadullah had been captured along with four other Taliban officials by the Afghans, but then was released in exchange for the freedom of an Italian journalist in 2007. Karzai was widely criticized for the exchange, especially after the Italian journalist’s driver and translator were both beheaded by the Taliban despite the deal. Dadullah was arrested in Pakistan in 2008.

Others released by Pakistan on Saturday, according to Afghan officials: Said Wali, Abdul Manan, Karim Agha, Sher Afzal, Gul Muhammad and Muhammad Zai. Authorities did not say on what charges they had arrested the men originally.

The 11 Taliban figures released from Pul-e-Charkhi Prison in Kabul on Friday by Afghan officials were taken to the Moqur district in Ghazni province, where the Taliban were believed to be holding Kakar, a member of the Afghan Parliament from Kandahar province, who was kidnapped Aug. 11.

The identities of the Taliban to be exchanged was not immediately known, but they are four women and a child as well as six men, according to Afghan officials involved in the exchange. The women and the child were apparently relatives of Taliban members arrested with them, a common practice in Afghanistan.

Afghan officials appeared to be annoyed that the seven Taliban prisoners in Pakistan were released straight from Pakistani prisons and allowed to go free, rather than being delivered to Afghan authorities. While hoping such former prisoners can participate in negotiations, they also fear the men may take up arms again if not carefully monitored.

Concerns that the militants would just go back to the fight were apparent Saturday in Afghanistan. “It is good, the release of these prisoners, but only if they go into normal life. If they are going to take weapons to fight again, they’ll never help the peace process in Afghanistan,” said Mohammad Mohaqeq, a member of the Afghan High Peace Council, which represents the government in the peace talks.

Material from The Associated Press and The Washington Post

is included in this report.

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