Pakistan has agreed to free several Afghan Taliban prisoners, officials from both countries said on Wednesday.
The talks between Pakistani diplomats and Afghan peace negotiators came as Salahuddin Rabbani, chair of the Afghan High Peace Council, is on a three-day visit to Islamabad. Rabbani’s visit is seen as a bid to re-start the peace process, which has been stalling for more than a year. He is expected to meet Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and other high ranking officials.
The proposed prisoner release is the clearest sign that Pakistan will put its weight behind Afghan reconciliation efforts.
Afghan officials have long lobbied for the release of Taliban prisoners by Pakistan in the hope that direct contacts with top insurgent commanders could boost peace talks.
Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder reports from Islamabad
“We aren’t too certain whether they can play an important role in peace negotiations but it is a positive gesture from Pakistan in helping peace efforts,” an Afghan official told the Reuters news agency.
According to reports in the Dawn newspaper, it was unclear if the detainees, thought to number about ten, were set free on Tuesday or would be released imminently.
A senior Pakistani army official said it had not yet been decided if Mullah Baradar, the former Afghan Taliban second-in-command, captured in 2010 by Pakistani security forces, would be released.
Afghan officials have identified Baradar as a figure who may still have the influence to persuade the Taliban to pursue peace after more than a decade of fighting US-led NATO and Afghan forces.
“The Afghans have failed to talk to the Taliban directly, they now want to talk to Pakistan,” reported Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder from Islamabad. “The important thing is whether the talks will have support from Mullah Omar, the supreme Taliban leader.”
The decision to release the prisoners is a major step forward for Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, which has been struggling to ease mistrust between the Taliban and the government in Kabul.
The Afghan High Peace Council was set up more than two years ago by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to open negotiations with groups like the Taliban
In May, Arsala Rahmani, a key member of the council, was shot dead in Kabul in an attack blamed on the Taliban. Officials said it was a major blow to President Karzai.
In September 2011, the chief of the council, Burhannudin Rabbani, was killed by a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban peace envoy.