ISLAMABAD, Dec 31: The government has set another eight senior Taliban leaders free in two batches over the past few days, signalling its continued support for the Afghan reconciliation process.
Those released are Mullah Noorudin Turabi, Mullah Allah Dad Akhund, Mullah Abdul Bari Akhund, Mullah Ghulam Mohammad, Mullah Daud Jan, Mir Ahmed Gul and relatively unknown Taliban figures Mullah Azam and Mullah Khair Mohammad.
The first two served as ministers in the Taliban regime and four others were governors of different provinces.
The releases take the number of the freed detainees to 26, an official told Dawn on Monday.
They have been released since the visit of the Afghan High Peace Council’s delegation to Pakistan last month when the government agreed to free influential members of the militant group in its detention for assisting talks in Afghanistan on ending the war in the country.
Following Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul’s visit on Nov 30, the government had agreed to let more Taliban detainees go back.
The 18 Taliban prisoners released in the first batch in mid-November were mostly mid-ranking fighters, including Mullah Anwarul Haq Mujahid, a former militant commander in eastern Afghanistan.
Those freed on the New Year eve were mostly senior figures in the group’s hierarchy.
Contrary to hopes in Kabul, those released did not include former Taliban deputy leader Mullah Baradar whose release has been long sought by the Afghan government.
Three of those set free lately — Turabi, Allah Dad and Abdul Bari — have been on the UN Security Council sanctions list since 2001.
Pakistan has been releasing detained militants in groups after assessing the outcome of the release of previous groups.
Freeing more senior Taliban reflects growing confidence of Pakistani officials in chances of success of the strategy.
An official, when asked about assessment of the release of the first group in mid-November, said he did not see any negative fallout of the move.
“We have reason to believe that it is good for both Pakistan and Afghanistan,” he added.
Although there was no immediate reaction from Afghan authorities on the freeing of more Taliban leaders, both Kabul and Afghan Taliban had earlier appreciated Pakistan’s decision of releasing the detainees.
Mullah Turabi, 49, of Kandahar, was the minister of Justice of the Taliban regime. His health is said to have been deteriorating during detention.
One-legged Mullah Turabi, who also headed the ministry of ‘promotion of virtue and suppression of vice’, was one of the most feared leaders during the Taliban government.
Mullah Allah Dad, alias Akhund, 59, served as minister of construction of the Taliban regime. He is from Spinboldak district of Kandahar. He also remained affiliated with the Afghan central bank and Ariana Airlines. He lost a foot in a landmine explosion.
Abdul Bari Akhund, alias Haji Sahib, 59, was governor of Helmand under the Taliban regime. He was a member of the Taliban Supreme Council till 2009.
Ghulam Mohammad is an ex-deputy governor of Kandahar, Mullah Daud Jan governor of Kabul and Mir Ahmed Gul of Nangarhar.