Pakistan freed a group of Afghan Taliban on Saturday in an attempt to improve its troubled ties with its South Asian neighbour, but risked angering Afghanistan further by not handing them over directly to the Kabul authorities.
The announcement followed last month’s trip by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to Pakistan, where he sought the handover of some Afghan insurgents as part of the stalled peace process.
Karzai as well as the United States want Pakistan to hand the insurgents directly to the Afghan authorities, but on Saturday, a group of seven Taliban was simply allowed to walk out of their cells into Pakistan.
“In order to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process, Pakistan is releasing seven Taliban detainees,” the Pakistani foreign ministry said in a statement.
A foreign ministry spokesman separately said all seven, including a senior commander called Mansoor Dadullah, were freed on Saturday.
Pakistan backed the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s and is seen as a crucial gatekeeper in attempts by the U.S. and Afghan governments to contact insurgent leaders who fled to Pakistan after the group’s 2001 removal.
But Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan of playing a double game in its 12-year-old war against Taliban fighters. It says Pakistan, facing a Taliban insurgency of its own, makes pronouncements about peace, but allows elements of its military to play a spoiling role.