Pakistan 'frees seven Taliban prisoners'

Taliban fighters in Afghanistan Taliban safe havens in Pakistan are cited as a main cause of violence in Afghanistan

Pakistan has announced the release of seven Taliban prisoners in a bid to help the Afghan peace process.

At least one former senior militant was among the men freed "in order to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process", said a foreign ministry statement.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Islamabad recently to promote peace.

Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif said at the time he wanted to help regional efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.

The foreign ministry statement named those freed on Saturday as Mansoor Dadullah, Said Wali, Abdul Manan, Karim Agha, Sher Afzal, Gul Muhammad and Muhammad Zai.

Mansoor Dadullah served as the Taliban's military commander in four of the most violent provinces of southern Afghanistan until he was captured in February 2008 after a shootout with security forces in Pakistan's Balochistan province.

He had succeeded his brother, Mullah Dadullah, who was killed in a joint Afghan-Nato operation in May, 2007, but was sacked by the Taliban leadership later that year for for disobeying orders.

Some 26 Taliban detainees have been freed during the past year, it added.

Pakistan's foreign ministry spokesman told the BBC these latest prisoners had been released in Pakistan, not delivered into the custody of the Afghans as Kabul would prefer, says the BBC's Charles Havilland in Islamabad.

US puppet?

Mr Karzai has sought Mr Sharif's help in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table, citing lack of security as the main concern for both neighbouring countries during his visit late last month.

Hamid Karzai (left) and Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad on 26 August 2013 Mr Karzai (left) visited Islamabad in August after an attempt to kick start peace talks in the Qatari capital of Doha foundered in June

Afghanistan believes that Taliban safe havens in Pakistan are the main cause of increased violence in the country.

Elements of Pakistan's intelligence service have long been accused of backing the Afghan Taliban and giving them refuge on Pakistani soil - something Islamabad strongly denies.

Mr Karzai said that he wanted the Pakistani government to play a mediating role with the Taliban, with whom Pakistan has a high degree of influence.

The Taliban refuse to talk with Mr Karzai, dismissing him as a US puppet.

One of Mr Karzai's main demands has been the release of high-profile Taliban prisoners held in Pakistan in the hope that this will help jump-start direct talks with insurgents.

He is particularly eager for Taliban's second-in-command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar who was arrested in Karachi in 2010, to be freed.

Sources have told the BBC that in his case the Afghans would like him to be transferred to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates.

Mr Karzai's visit to Islamabad came after an attempt to kick start peace talks in the Qatari capital of Doha foundered in June.

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