Afghan president praises Pakistan prisoner release

Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan's president praised Pakistan on Tuesday for releasing a group of Taliban prisoners, a move he hopes will kick start peace talks with the militant group, the president's office said.

The praise came in a meeting between President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan's powerful army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, who is in Kabul for a one-day visit. Kayani also met with senior members of the international military coalition.

Karzai "praised Pakistan's decision to release, for the success of the peace process, a number of Taliban prisoners," the Afghan president's office said in a statement.

Pakistan has so far released at least nine Taliban prisoners. The most prominent was former Justice Minister Nooruddin Turabi, who served when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s. Afghan officials said last week that the Pakistanis have agreed to release others as well.

The release is seen as a signal that Pakistan might be willing to take concrete steps to revive efforts to lure the Taliban to the negotiating table to work out an agreement before international forces hand over security duties to the Afghans by the end of 2014.

The prisoner release could help in that, but obstacles remain. It is unclear whether the Taliban even intend to take part in the process, or just wait until foreign forces withdraw to make a move.

Pakistan is seen as key to the peace process. Islamabad has ties to the Taliban that date back to the 1990s, and many of the group's leaders are believed to be based on Pakistani territory, after fleeing there following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Karzai's office said his discussions with Kayani on Tuesday were "frank, cordial and in depth." The two talked about the Afghan peace process and how to improve relations, the statement said. The Afghans said Kayani supported efforts to bring peace and security to Afghanistan.

But fighting continues. In western Afghanistan on Tuesday, a bombing killed a former Taliban commander who left the insurgency and joined the Afghan police force. The remote-controlled bomb exploded near Noor Mohammad Jahani's house in Farah city, the capital of the province of the same name, said provincial government spokesman Abdul Rahman Zhawandai. Jahani was killed and one of his bodyguards was wounded, Zhawandai said.

Jahani repudiated his Taliban ties two years ago and joined the Afghan police. He was in charge of two police checkpoints in Farah province's Bala Buluk district, Zhawandai said.

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