The Pakistan government released eight Afghan Taliban prisoners Monday with hopes of invigorating the peace process in Afghanistan, where NATO troops are scheduled to pull out at the end of 2014. However, the Taliban field commanders are not too optimistic if the release will push forward the peace process as they observe that the freed prisoners cease to wield power anymore.
"Once you have been in prison you can't operate inside our network. You don't have the same status," a Taliban commander told Reuters.
Most media reports have identified four of the released prisoners as former Taliban justice minister Mullah Nuroddin Turabi, former Taliban communications minister Mullah Allahdad, ex-governor of Helmand province Mullah Abdul Bari and former Taliban guard Muhammad Azeem.
A statement released late Monday by the Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Moazzam Ahmad Khan identified two other released prisoners as Mullah Daud Jan, ex-governor in Kabul, and Mir Ahmed Gul, an ex-governor, the AFP has reported.
Apparently, officials are hoping that the release of Mullah Turabi will encourage field Taliban commanders to lay down their weapons and facilitate greater understanding of the Taliban senior leadership, according to the BBC.
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Mullah Turabi, who was imprisoned for seven years, is said to be in poor health.
Though Pakistan has been accused of backing insurgents in the past, recent remarks by Afghan officials point to the optimism that Islamabad is genuine in supporting its peace process.
The release of prisoners is viewed as a reflection of Islamabad's commitment to backing peace efforts in Afghanistan as the latter had been urging Pakistan to free the Taliban members to promote reconciliation and bring stability to the nation ahead of the NATO troop’s pullout.
Commenting on the release, a senior Afghan official said the proximity of the released prisoners to Taliban's reclusive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar was likely to boost the reconciliation efforts.
Charges against the released prisoners are not clear and Pakistan has reportedly freed several mid-level Taliban members in the recent weeks.
Islamabad has agreed to release the prisoners to help bring an end to an eleven-year conflict between the Taliban and the Afghan government. And support from Pakistan, which backed the 1996-2001 Taliban regime in Kabul, is considered crucial to peace in Afghanistan.
The release also has to be viewed from the perspective where the Taliban, who have been waging an insurgency since 2001, refuse to negotiate directly with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.