ISLAMABAD: The government announced on Thursday that it had released 19 non-combatant Taliban as a goodwill gesture for bolstering the peace process with the outlawed TTP.

But surprisingly, the claim made by the interior ministry was rebutted by the Prime Minister’s Secretariat which said that “release of some prisoners involved in petty crimes by the political administration has been wrongly connoted as release of Taliban prisoners”.

The statement emanating from the Prime Minister’s House was in fact a reaction to a report by an international wire service claiming that the prisoners were freed with the approval of the prime minister.

“It is clarified that there has been no authorisation given from the prime minister in this regard,” the brief statement said.

The interior ministry has announced the release of the first large batch of people since the launch of military operation in South Waziristan in 2009.

A spokesman for the ministry said the prisoners released were non-combatant Taliban belonging to the Mehsud tribe.

However, the confusion created by the contradictory positions taken by the interior ministry and the PM Office was soon over when hours after the denial, the latter confirmed the release of non-combatants and said the measure had been taken at the local level on the directives of the interior ministry.

An official told Dawn that the confusion was the result of some media reports which had attributed the release of the prisoners directly to the PM Office. He said Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was the focal person in the ongoing talks with the TTP and, therefore, the decision was taken at his level. He added that those released were local people who had been investigated by the political administration and declared innocent.

“The interior ministry has now conveyed the details about the development to the prime minister and there is no room for any confusion at all,” the official said.

Later, the interior ministry came up with some information about the freed Taliban, but did not release their names. It said three of them had been released on March 21, five on March 25 and 11 on March 28. They were arrested on suspicion or on the basis of intelligence reports.

“The government and the armed forces have a policy to free those proved to be innocent as a result of investigations,” the ministry spokesman said.

Meanwhile, talking to reporters in Islamabad, Chaudhry Nisar rejected a perception that there was a deadlock in peace talks and said he would soon meet the Taliban committee. It will be followed by another round of direct talks with the TTP Shura.

Earlier, speaking at the launching ceremony of a think tank, ‘Centre for Policy Research and Dialogue’, the minister expressed optimism about progress in peace talks and said a meeting would soon be held to review the process.

He said he hoped that the efforts being made by the government would restore peace in the country.

After 9/11, he said, former rulers imposed a war on Pakistan which continued for over a decade. He regretted that nothing had been done in the past to resolve the conflict through dialogue. Those responsible for this state of affairs, he said, were now criticising the government.

He said it should be acknowledged that there were no acts of terrorism between 2001 and 2004 in tribal areas. No Pakistani citizen was involved in the 9/11 incident.

Our Peshawar Bureau adds: An official said most of the people released had been rounded up during search operations and declared “white” implying that they were innocent. Some of them belong to the Khan Said alias Sajna group which is widely believed to have been in contact with security agencies to cut a peace deal prior to the start of talks with the mainstream TTP.

It is clear that the government has taken a conscious decision to please the Sajna group whose representative Azam Tariq is part of the militants’ team holding direct talks with the government.

A militant commander, however, told our correspondent in Miramshah that those released did not belong to the TTP. They belonged to the Wana-based Maulvi Nazir group which already had a peace agreement with the government, he claimed.

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