Meeting positive, says HPC chief; conflicting reports emerge about prisoners’ release
Amid reports of the possible release of middle-level Taliban leaders lodged in Pakistani prisons to create an atmosphere for peace talks in Afghanistan, the Afghan High Peace Council (HPC) on Wednesday extended its three-day visit to Islamabad by a day.
Throughout the day, there were conflicting reports regarding the release of prisoners. While some reports suggested that Pakistan had agreed to the long-pending demand of Afghanistan to release the prisoners, others claimed that at least half-a-dozen of them had been released by afternoon.
All such reports maintained that Taliban’s second-in-command Mullah Baradar was not among the list of prisoners released/due-to-be-released.
However, there was no confirmation from either side and HPC chief Salahuddin Rabbani remained non-committal when asked by journalists about their release. In an interaction with a select group of Pakistani journalists, he said, without getting into specifics, that the meeting with the civil and military leadership had been positive.
About the prisoner release including that of Baradar, the HPC said it would facilitate the peace process and would be helpful in convincing the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. Besides, Mr. Rabbani said, the HPC sought safe passage for those Taliban leaders residing in Pakistan who are willing to negotiate. Essentially, the Afghans want an assurance that the families and properties of Taliban leaders willing to talk peace would be secure.
This is Mr. Rabbani’s first visit to Pakistan as head of the HPC. He took over as HPC chief following the assassination of his father Burhanuddin Rabbani in September last year and was to have visited Pakistan earlier but the visit was cancelled at the eleventh hour.
He is visiting Pakistan with the rest of the Council members on the invitation of the Foreign Ministry; apparently, even after some assurances were given,the Afghans are sour that Islamabad has seldom delivered on its promises.
Both countries have been in talks over the release of some Afghan prisoners and Islamabad has time and again refused to confirm whether Baradar’s release also featured in these negotiations. Baradar was arrested from Karachi in 2010.
Given that Baradar is married to Taliban chief Mullah Omar’s sister and is one of the four men who founded the movement in 1994, there is a perception in Afghanistan that his release would give traction to the efforts to put together a viable arrangement for governance in Kabul ahead of the drawdown of the coalition forces.
Baradar is said to have been in peace talks with the Afghan government at the time of his arrest and there is a line of thinking in the U.S. that he was picked up by the Pakistani security forces primarily to scuttle that process.