ISLAMABAD — Pakistan has freed four more Afghan Taliban prisoners, including a former justice minister, a Pakistani government official said on Monday, in another sign Islamabad is supporting efforts to start formal peace talks with the militant group.
The figures freed from detention were close to the movement's reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, and could help the Kabul government with peace efforts, the official said on Monday.
"Their release will certainly have a positive impact on the mindsets of other senior Taliban, especially on field commanders who took orders from them for years," the official who is close to reconciliation efforts, told Reuters.
Afghanistan has been pressing Pakistan to free Taliban members who could help promote reconciliation before most NATO combat troops withdraw before the end of 2014.
"Pakistan released four Taliban prisoners," the Pakistani official told Reuters.
Former Taliban justice minister Mullah Nooruddin Turabi and three others were released, said the official. An Afghan official confirmed their release.
Pakistan, which has long been accused of using insurgent groups such as the Taliban and the Haqqani network, has freed a batch of mid-level Taliban members in recent weeks.
A senior Afghan government official told Reuters this month that Pakistan was genuine about backing the Afghan peace process and shares the Kabul government's goal of transforming the Taliban insurgency into a political movement.
Regional power Pakistan is seen as critical to U.S. and Afghan efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan, a task gaining urgency before the end of the U.S. combat mission in 2014.
Pakistan's powerful army chief has made reconciling warring factions in Afghanistan a priority, Pakistani military officials and Western diplomats told Reuters, the clearest signal yet that Islamabad means business in promoting peace.
General Ashfaq Kayani, arguably the most powerful man in Pakistan, is backing dialogue partly due to fears that the end of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan could energize a resilient insurgency straddling the shared frontier, according to commanders deployed in the region.
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