Pakistan on Monday released eight Taliban detainees, including two former ministers, in the regime that governed Afghanistan from September 1996 to December 2001. With this, the number of Taliban prisoners released by Pakistan over the past month has gone up to 26.
The Taliban detainees released today included former Justice Minister Nur-ud Din Turabi and his colleague Allah Daad Tabib. The list also included former Governors from Helmund and Kabul, Abdul Bari and Mullah Daud Jan. While there was speculation all day that some more Taliban detainees had been released, the official confirmation came late in the night from the Foreign Office.
According to a statement put out by the Foreign Office, the Taliban detainees were being released to facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process. The first batch was released last month during a visit of the Afghan High Peace Council (HPC) to Islamabad. Afghanistan and the HPC have for long been seeking the release of Taliban detainees. However, Pakistan is yet to release the Taliban deputy commander Mullah Baradar.
This is the first time that senior Taliban leaders have been released by Pakistan; the earlier releases were all mid-level fighters. Turabi was not only close to Taliban chief Mullah Omar but had a big hand in setting the strict moral codes of the regime. Though reportedly of failing health, he apparently still wields considerable influence over the Taliban movement.
The prisoner release is being billed by Pakistan as its way of articulating commitment to the Afghan reconciliation process amidst criticism of playing both ends. Of late, the U.S. has also scaled down its criticism of Pakistan.