ISLAMABAD, Nov 30: Pakistan agreed on Friday to release more Afghan Taliban prisoners and facilitate contacts of militants based here with peace negotiators from Afghanistan.

Islamabad conveyed its willingness to release more Afghan Taliban to Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, who was here on a day-long visit.

Mr Rassoul’s agenda in Islamabad was quite extensive covering trade, aid, security and strategic partnership agreement, but cooperation for furthering the political process in Afghanistan dominated his talks with Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.

Kabul sent Foreign Minister Rassoul after being encouraged by the successful visit of High Peace Council delegation earlier this month, which led to the release of first batch of Taliban prisoners and an agreement to hold conference of ulema for persuading indecisive Taliban ranks to join peace process.

During meetings with Mr Rassoul and his delegation, Pakistani authorities further agreed to urge/influence Taliban to renounce their ties with Al Qaeda and send a delegation of Pakistani clerics, who have a strong following among the Taliban, to join an ulema conference in Kabul being planned by end of January.

The two sides, diplomatic sources said, would set up a joint group for establishing and maintaining contacts with Afghan Taliban living in Pakistan.

“This is the time for continued action. Therefore, I hope that we continue with implementing other concrete measures in a timely manner and pushing the peace process forward along the road map we shared with Pakistan, so that all those who can help advance the peace process, go free. So, ultimately the Afghan government and Taliban can engage in sustained process of negotiations,” Mr Rassoul said at the joint news conference along with Foreign Minister Khar.

Mr Rassoul, during his meeting with Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, pressed for early implementation of what Pakistan had agreed to do for assisting the peace process.

“Time has come that we should show results,” the Afghan foreign minister was quoted as telling Mr Ashraf.

While Kabul has been seeking release of all Afghan Taliban prisoners, it has specially asked Pakistan to free their senior leaders, including the former Taliban number two Mullah Baradar.

Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai, in a separate statement made prior to the meeting, had said: “We believe that he (Baradar) will be released.”

Kabul believes that Islamabad has a central and crucial role to play in the reconciliation process.

Foreign Minister Khar speaking at the press conference said: “There is no doubt that Pakistan is walking the talk of supporting at all costs an Afghan-led, Afghan-driven and Afghan-owned process of peace and reconciliation.”

On counter-terrorism, Ms Khar sounded critical about skepticism over Islamabad’s track record of fighting the menace. “We don’t need anyone to tell us how seriously we take the threat of terrorism.”

STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP: Pakistan shared with the Afghan delegation its draft of the strategic partnership agreement that it intends to have with Kabul.

“This visit starts the initiation of discussions on the strategic partnership agreement,” Ms Khar said.

The proposed agreement, being backed by western countries, is to serve as roadmap for future of Pak-Afghan ties.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai had in his meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari in New York in September proposed the Strategic Partnership Agreement with Pakistan. Western diplomats based in Islamabad say the two sides would sign the agreement next year.


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