Afghan officials say Pakistan’s release of 33 Taliban prisoners from jail, a policy initially trumpeted by Kabul as an opportunity to ignite peace talks, has resulted in no concrete progress.
The Afghan government, desperately searching for a way to negotiate peace before NATO troops leave next year, has said that the release of influential rebels could encourage their comrades to the negotiating table.
But despite the 33 Afghan Taliban prisoners released by Pakistan and dozens of others freed in Afghanistan, there is still no peace process and some rebels have returned to the battlefield.
The Taliban still refuse publicly to deal with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, branding him a US puppet.
In parts of Afghanistan, which continue to witness Taliban attacks, the releases have been met with incomprehension if not anger by local government officials.
“The Taliban who are released rejoin the battlefield,” said Zurawar Zahid, police chief of the flashpoint southern province of Ghazni told AFP news agency.
“We put our lives in danger to arrest them, but the central government releases them under different pretences,” he added.
Zahid said that more than 40 Taliban, including some senior commanders, who were recently freed from Ghazni central prison on Karzai’s orders have gone back to the battlefield.
Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, deputy provincial governor of Ghazni, also believes that the Taliban releases have done nothing to help.
“The central government knows they will rejoin the Taliban again after they are released, it is not going to help the peace process,” he said.
We put our lives in danger to arrest them, but the central government releases them under different pretences
Afghans have also complained about the manner in which the Pakistanis have released the detainees, without any warning and without delivering them to Afghan authorities.
“We don’t even know what happens to them after they’re released,” said Ismail Qasimyar, a senior member of the High Peace Council set up to reach out to the Taliban.
“When they decide to free Taliban, they only inform the Afghan government a few hours before,” he added.
Pakistan now says it intends to release its most senior Afghan Taliban detainee, former military leader Abdul Ghani Baradar who has been described as number two to supreme leader Mullah Omar.
Picked up by Pakistani and American agents in Karachi in early 2010, Afghan and US officials at the time accused Pakistan of sabotaging peace efforts by arresting the reputed moderate.
But nearly four years later, the consequences of his release are deeply uncertain.
“He is no longer as important for the Taliban as he used to be before being arrested,” said Pakistani rebellion expert Rahimullah Yusufzai.
“Nor will it (the Taliban) accept him as a mediator. The Taliban would rather like to watch him before assigning him any role. But I don’t think Baradar will be assigned the kind of role that the US and Karzai administrations expect him to be given, to mediate between Kabul and the Taliban,” Yusufzai added.
Rather than benefiting peace talks, the releases have perhaps been limited to an attempt to re-establish trust between Kabul and Islamabad, whose relations are clouded by deep distrust.
“It will definitely send strong signals that Pakistan is contributing positively to the peace process,” retired Pakistani general Talat Masood told AFP.
“However, this release is not likely to make any significant difference in the negotiating process,” he added.