Seven Afghan Taliban leaders, including Mansoor Dadullah, were today freed by Pakistan to boost the troubled reconciliation process in Afghanistan, taking
the total number of commanders released so far to 33.
"In order to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process, Pakistan is releasing seven Taliban detainees, namely Mansoor Dadullah, Said Wali, Abdul Manan, Karim Agha, Sher Afzal, Gul Muhammad and Muhammad Zai," the Foreign Office said in a statement.
Mansoor Dadullah, the younger brother of one-legged Taliban leader Mullah Dadullah, is a senior commander who was captured by Pakistani forces in Balochistan province in 2008.
Mullah Dadullah was killed in a joint operation by Afghan and NATO forces in southern Afghanistan in 2007, and Mansoor succeeded him. He had also led operations in the southern Afghan province of Helmand.
The Taliban said in December 2007 that they had sacked Mansoor because he disobeyed orders. Analysts believe he will not go back to the Afghan Taliban.
Incidentally, Mansoor was one of five Taliban who were freed in May 2007 in exchange for kidnapped Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo.
Last year, Pakistan freed 26 Taliban detainees but it has so far not acceded to Afghanistan's demand to release Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former second-in-command of the Afghan Taliban. Kabul has been seeking Baradar's release since he was arrested in Karachi in 2010.
Pakistan also did not hand over the seven Taliban leaders freed today to Afghan authorities despite requests to do so from both the Afghan and US governments.
The releases came days after a visit to Islamabad by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The release of Taliban detainees was one of the main demands of Karzai during his trip in late August.
Infuriated by the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar in June, Karzai had wanted Pakistan to help him open a dialogue with the group. He had asked Pakistan to "to facilitate peace talks" between his country and the Taliban.
Pakistan has promised it will provide all possible help for the reconciliation process but many Afghans continue to view its role with suspicion.
"I assured President Karzai that Pakistan will continue to extend all possible facilitation to the international community's efforts for the realisation of this noble goal," Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said recently.
"I also reaffirmed Pakistan's strong and sincere support for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan."
Karzai, who extended his one-day visit by a day, said Afghanistan wants the Pakistan government to facilitate the peace process and provide opportunities for talks between the Afghan High Peace Council and the Taliban.