Pakistan has released nine members of the Taliban from prison in hopes they will help negotiate peace in Afghanistan, a senior Afghan peace negotiator said.
They are to receive safe passage back to Afghanistan, Salahuddin Rabbani, chairman of Afghanistan High Peace Council, told reporters in Kabul Saturday.
A senior Pakistani intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the release, indicating that many of the prisoners were old-guard Taliban, ranking members from generations past.
Two were once ministers in the former Taliban government before the U.S. invaded the country in 2001, he said. The rest were either former government officials or low- to mid-evel commanders.
The peace council has attempted to forge peace between the Taliban, the Afghan government and Western powers. It supports Kabul’s call to the Taliban to cut its links to al Qaeda.
The prisoner release coincided with a recent three-day visit by an Afghan delegation led by Rabbani to Islamabad, which sat down with Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and religious leaders to solicit their support for the peace process in Afghanistan.
The Afghans have requested the discharge of more Taliban, who Rabbani said have agreed to support peace negotiations, and hope that this first release was the just the beginning.
A former second-in-command Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was rumored to have been considered for release but was not among those set free.
Rabbani is the son of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who led the peace council until his assassination in his home at the hand of suicide bombers posing as Taliban peace negotiators in 2011.