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Jan 01, 2013 at 01:58pm IST

Pakistan frees 26 Afghan Taliban prisoners

Islamabad: Pakistan on December 31 said it had freed 26 Afghan Taliban prisoners, including former ministers Mullah Nooruddin Turabi and Maulvi Allah Dad, since last month as part of its efforts to give impetus to the reconciliation process in Afghanistan. Eight Taliban detainees were released today to "further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process", said a statement issued by the Foreign Office.

Eighteen Taliban prisoners were freed last month on the request of the Afghan High Peace Council, it said. Former justice minister Nooruddin Turabi, former communications minister Maulvi Allah Dad, former Helmand province governor Abdul Bari, former Kabul governor Mullah Daud Jan and former governor Mir Ahmed Gul were among those released on December 31, the statement said.

Diplomatic sources told media that Mohammad Azim, a former security guard of Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Omar, too was freed today. They said the prisoner releases were part of an ongoing process that began before a visit to Islamabad by Afghan High Peace Council chief Salahuddin Rabbani in mid-November. The Afghan Taliban too confirmed the release of the prisoners.

Pakistan frees 26 Afghan Taliban prisoners

Eighteen Taliban prisoners were freed last month on the request of the Afghan High Peace Council.

Diplomatic and other sources said a majority of the prisoners were freed before and during Rabbani's visit to Islamabad while several were released last week. Pakistan has been positioning itself for a greater role in the Afghan peace and reconciliation process ahead of the withdrawal of US and allied forces from Afghanistan in 2014.

The release of prisoners has been a key demand of the Afghan High Peace Council, which feels they could play an important role in pushing forward the reconciliation process. However, Pakistan has yet to decide on the release of the most high-profile Taliban detainee, former deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, despite persistent calls for him to be freed. Baradar was captured in Karachi in February 2010.

Recent reports have said Turabi was ailing. He was appointed as a military commander in Afghanistan in mid-2009 and was a deputy to Mullah Omar. The US and its allies have indicated that Pakistan could play a key role in the reconciliation process. The Taliban have so far refuses to directly negotiate with the government of President Hamid Karzai.