Pakistan releases 3 senior Taliban prisoners

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Pakistani government released three senior Taliban prisoners Tuesday in an attempt to jumpstart stuttering peace talks with the Afghan government, the latest in a wave of detainees freed to help negotiations, said Pakistani and Taliban officials.

The prisoners released included Mullah Abdul Ahad Jahangirwal, a former adviser to Taliban leader Mullah Omar; Mullah Abdul Manan, a former Taliban governor in the Afghan province of Helmand; and Mullah Younus, a former military commander, said two Pakistani government officials and a member of the Taliban.

Pakistan also quietly released nearly a dozen lower-ranking Taliban prisoners in October, said an Afghan official. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists.

The release comes less than a week after an Afghan delegation tasked with holding peace talks with the Taliban visited Pakistan to meet with the group's former deputy leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. The former No. 2 was released by Pakistan in September after years in detention. Some officials hope he can help jumpstart the peace process, while others have their doubts.

Pakistan has now released around four dozen Taliban prisoners over the last year in an attempt to help peace talks. But there is no sign that the releases have helped peace negotiations, and some of the prisoners are believed to have returned to the fight against the Afghan government.

Some of the releases ended up causing friction with Kabul and Washington, which both claimed that Pakistan was not monitoring the whereabouts and activities of all the former inmates. Moreover, the Taliban have so far refused to talk directly with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, his government or its representatives. Attempts to open talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban in June ended in failure after Karzai accused the militants of setting up a government in exile and demanded they remove their flag and a sign identifying the movement as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The Taliban refused and closed their office in the Gulf state of Qatar.

Pakistan has a complicated relationship with the Taliban. Pakistan helped the group seize control of Afghanistan in 1996, and Kabul has repeatedly accused Islamabad of providing the insurgents sanctuary on its territory following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Many analysts also believe Pakistan has maintained its ties with the Taliban as a way to counter the influence of archenemy India in Afghanistan. But there is also a significant level of distrust of Pakistan among the Taliban, a feeling that has been reinforced by Islamabad's detention of insurgents — possibly as bargaining chips.

Islamabad is also fighting its own related insurgent movement, the Pakistani Taliban. One of the reasons analysts believe Pakistan has stepped up efforts to facilitate a peace deal in Afghanistan is the fear that chaos in the country after foreign forces withdraw could provide Pakistani Taliban militants with sanctuary.

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