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Pakistan releases eight Taliban prisoners

By Shaiq Hussain,

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan released eight Taliban prisoners, including former justice minister Nooruddin Turabi, on Monday in an effort to facilitate the peace process in neighboring Afghanistan.

The announcement by Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry also said that 18 Taliban prisoners were released in November at the request of an Afghan High Peace Council delegation during its visit to Islamabad.

But the freed Taliban detainees did not include former deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar, arrested in Karachi in 2010. The release of Baradar and other Taliban leaders from Pakistan’s custody has been a long-standing demand of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government, which believes that their freedom would help persuade Taliban leaders to join the sluggish peace and reconciliation process.

The release of prisoners reflects Islamabad’s readiness to promote peace in Afghanistan amid concerns that civil war and strife in that nation after the U.S. troop exit scheduled for 2014 would have perilous consequences for Pakistan.

The Taliban did not immediately comment on Monday’s release of prisoners, and it was unclear whether such efforts would help bring the militants to the negotiating table.

The release marks incremental progress on an issue that many in Afghanistan view as intractable. The Taliban has repeatedly refused to recognize the legitimacy of Karzai’s government. Despite a recent meeting between Afghan officials and alleged members of the Taliban outside of Paris, officials close to Karzai have recently expressed doubts about the state of negotiations.

As U.S. troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan, hope remains among Western officials that the conflict can be resolved through political means. But during the most recent iteration of Taliban talks, the Afghan government criticized U.S. officials for taking a lead role in negotiations and violating Afghan sovereignty.

Kevin Sieff contributed to this report.

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