KABUL, Sept 14: Afghan officials have criticised the release of Taliban prisoners by Pakistan and Afghanistan and say the recent releases have provided little help to Kabul’s effort to ignite peace talks with the insurgents.

The Afghan government, desperately searching for a way to negotiate peace before Nato troops leave next year, has said that the release of influential insurgents could encourage their comrades to the negotiating table.

But despite the 33 Afghan Taliban prisoners released by Pakistan and dozens of others freed in Afghanistan, there is still no peace process and some fighters have returned to the battlefield.

The Taliban still refuse publicly to deal with the government of President Hamid Karzai, branding him a US puppet.

Afghans have also complained about the manner in which the Pakistanis have released the detainees — without any warning and without delivering them to Afghan authorities.

“We don’t even know what happens to them after they’re released,” said Ismail Qasimyar, a senior member of the High Peace Council set up to reach out to the Taliban.

“When they decide to free Taliban, they only inform the Afghan government a few hours before,” he added.

“The Taliban releases by Pakistan have not been effective for the Afghanistan peace process,” he said.

Pakistan now says it intends to release its most senior Afghan Taliban detainee, Abdul Ghani Baradar who has been described as number two to Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

He was picked up by Pakistani and American personnel in Karachi in early 2010. Afghan and US officials at the time accused Pakistan of sabotaging peace efforts by arresting the reputed moderate.

In parts of Afghanistan, which continue to suffer from Taliban violence, the releases have been met with incomprehension if not anger by local government officials.

“The Taliban who are released...rejoin the battlefield again,” said Zurawar Zahid, police chief of the flashpoint southern province of Ghazni.

“We put our lives in danger to arrest them, but the central government releases them under different pretences,” he added.

Mr Zahid said that more than 40 Taliban, including some senior 'commanders’, who were recently freed from Ghazni central prison on Mr Karzai’s orders, had gone back to the battlefield.

Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, deputy provincial governor of Ghazni, also believes that the Taliban releases have done nothing to help.

“The people who are behind killings, bombings [and] killing [of] innocent civilians and government officials should be punished.

“The central government knows they will rejoin the Taliban again after they are released, it is not going to help the peace process,” he said.

Rather than benefiting peace talks, the release of Taliban prisoners have perhaps been limited to an attempt to re-establish trust between Kabul and Islamabad, whose relations are clouded by deep distrust.

Both trade blame over the Taliban threatening security in both countries, and Kabul accuses elements of the Pakistani state of funding, controlling and sheltering the Afghan Taliban.

Islamabad says it will do anything to stop the fighting in Afghanistan.

The Taliban have also shown no willingness to participate in elections on April 5, 2014 when Mr Karzai will step aside for a new leader for the first time since the 2001 US-led invasion.

Instead their readiness to negotiate with the Americans about a prisoner swap has only infuriated Mr Karzai, who last month asked Pakistan to help find a direct channel of communication.—AFP

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