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In push for Afghan peace, Pakistan frees Taliban captives

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan released several Afghan Taliban captives Wednesday, a gesture meant to nudge along on-again, off-again reconciliation talks aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan, Pakistani officials said.

The Afghan government has long sought access to such prisoners in hopes of establishing a dialogue with the Taliban insurgents who have battled for 11 years to topple the US-backed Afghan government.

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‘‘It is a gesture of support for the Afghanistan reconciliation process,’’ a Pakistani military official said. While this official said upwards of 10 prisoners were released, another security official put the number at seven or eight prisoners, who had been held at different jails around the country.

Whether Islamabad’s gesture to Kabul eases the deep mistrust between the neighboring nations remains to be seen.

Negotiators for Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United States have concluded that political reconciliation is the only viable solution to ending the war. But Taliban leaders have continuously stated their unwillingness to negotiate with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.

Karzai regularly criticizes Pakistan for what he calls its support of terrorist attacks and militant operations against Afghan and NATO troops.

But Karzai also recognizes that Pakistan can play a key role in brokering any peace pact — ideally before the end of 2014, when the United States will pull its combat troops out of Afghanistan, leaving the country more vulnerable than ever to Taliban assaults.

The two Pakistani officials, who spoke anonymously because they are not authorized to be named as spokesmen, said Mullah Abdul Ghani
Baradar, the former Taliban second-in-command behind Mullah Mohammad Omar, was not among the prisoners released.

Barader, who was captured in Karachi in 2010, is considered close enough to Omar to hold some sway in efforts to bring peace.

Omar broke off talks with US officials earlier this year.

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