ISLAMABAD: US troops in Afgha­nis­tan said on Sunday they had handed over three Pakistani prisoners to Islama­bad, while a security source said one of them was a senior Pakistani Taliban `commander’.

“Acting on behalf of the United States government, we tran­sferred custody of three Pakistanis held in US custody in Afghanistan, to Pak­istan,” US Forces-Afghanistan said in a statement in Kabul.

“This followed consultations bet­ween the US and Pakistan and after receiving appropriate assurances,” it added.

The statement did not identify the detainees. But a Pakistani security official said one of them was Latif Mehsud, a close aide to the former chief of the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Hakeem­ullah Mehsud.

Latif Mehsud was brought to Islamabad on Saturday along with two other suspected militants captured in Afghanistan – one from Swat and another from South Waziristan.

Hakeemullah was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in May last year.

The official did not disclose the names of the other two suspects.

However, he said, Latif was arres­ted by US forces in Afghanistan days before the death of Hakeemullah.

Another senior local official said Latif served as Hakeemullah’s driver and also as Hakeemullah’s deputy for quite some time.

Experts believe the move, which came after a recent visit by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to Pakistan, seems part of efforts to build confidence and bilateral relations.

Pakistan has been demanding Afgha­nistan hand over fugitive TTP chief Maulana Fazlullah, who is reportedly hiding in the Afghan province of Kunar.

The prisoners were secretly flown to Pak­istan, senior Pakis­tani security officials said.

“TTP senior ‘commander’ Latif Meh­sud who was arrested was handed over to Pakistani authorities along with his guards,” one Pakistani security official said. “They reached Islamabad.”

The transfers coincide with a visit by outgoing US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel to Afghanistan.

The US Embassy in Kabul said the three prisoners had been held at a detention centre near Bagram airfield.

The facility is believed to house several dozen foreign prisoners who the United States will no longer be allowed to keep in Afghanistan when the mission for the US-led force there ends later this month.

“We’re actually just going through and returning all the third-country nationals detained in Afghanistan to resolve that issue,” a US embassy spokeswoman said.

The fate of the remaining prisoners was undecided and they could be returned to their home countries, brought into the US legal system or to the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, the commander of the detention centre said in September.

Taliban militants, meanwhile, fired two rockets into the Bagram base on Saturday, damaging a building and a road, a spokesman for international coalition forces said.

A message on a Taliban-linked Twitter account suggested that Mr Hagel was the target. He was not at Bagram at the time of the attack, a US military spokesman said.

Recognisable by his curly locks and youthful looks, Latif Mehsud was snatched by US forces last year not far from Kabul.

At the time, then Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s spokesman told the Washington Post that Latif Mehsud was travelling with a convoy of Afghan intelligence officials who wanted to recruit him for peace talks, and that the US forcibly removed him.

The arrest enraged Mr Karzai, who saw it as a challenge to Afghan sovereignty.

In a statement, the US military said Afghanistan “was not involved” in Saturday’s transfer.

“We are working on gathering information on how this took place,” said Nazifullah Salarzai, the spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani.

Published in Dawn December 8th , 2014



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