KABUL, Afghanistan — Many of at least a dozen Afghan Taliban prisoners being released by Pakistan are significant figures, according to officials on all sides, and Afghan peace representatives were exultant Saturday as they announced that more releases might follow.
The releases are expected to help bolster the efforts of the High Peace Council, the Afghan government’s negotiating body, to start talks with the insurgents. Prisoner releases have been a core demand of the council, and Pakistan’s move was seen as a good-faith effort to advance the moribund peace process.
Previously, the council had been rejected as insignificant by the Taliban and dismissed as impotent by Western diplomats. Pakistan agreed to the prisoner releases, the most significant it has yet made, on Thursday after a visit by the council to Islamabad.
The insurgents were quick to praise the releases. A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, reached by telephone, said there were “important" prisoners among those being freed, and that the insurgents had confirmed that some had already reached home.
Richard Hoagland, a deputy United States ambassador to Pakistan, praised the move as well, and said the U.S. would help Afghanistan and Pakistan provide safe passage home for the freed prisoners.
“We have said from the beginning that it is very important for Afghanistan to lead and to own the reconciliation process," Hoagland said. “And there is going to be a role for very important players like Pakistan, too, so it’s a very good step and we are pleased."
Nine men have been released so far, the head of the High Peace Council, Salahuddin Rabbani, said Saturday at a news conference, adding that the release of additional prisoners is expected.
The prisoners, Rabbani said, were being given their freedom either in Afghanistan or Pakistan.