Pakistan has freed eight more Afghan Taliban prisoners, including a former justice minister, a Pakistani government official has said, in another sign Islamabad is supporting efforts to start formal peace talks with the armed group.
Former Taliban justice minister Mullah Nooruddin Turabi and seven others were released, said the official on Monday. An Afghan official also confirmed their release.
Afghanistan has been pressing Pakistan to free Taliban members who could help promote reconciliation before most NATO combat troops withdraw before the end of 2014.
Pakistan, which has long been accused of backing armed groups such as the Taliban and the Haqqani network, has freed a batch of mid-level Taliban members in recent weeks.
A senior Afghan government official said this month that Pakistan was genuine about backing the Afghan peace process and shares Kabul’s goal of transforming the Taliban insurgency into a political movement.
Regional power Pakistan is seen as critical to US and Afghan efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan, a task gaining urgency before the end of the US combat mission in 2014.
Pakistan’s powerful army chief has made reconciling warring factions in Afghanistan a priority, Pakistani military officials and Western diplomats said, the clearest signal yet that Islamabad means business in promoting peace.
General Ashfaq Kayani, arguably the most powerful man in Pakistan, is backing dialogue partly due to fears that the end of the US combat mission in Afghanistan could energise a resilient insurgency straddling the shared frontier, according to commanders deployed in the region.