BAHARAQ (Afghanistan), Jan 13: A total of 58 Taliban prisoners, all Pakistanis, are being held at a remote jail high up in Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains, prison officials said.

Two of the prisoners were seen chopping firewood outside the walls of the jail during a snowstorm but were whisked away later.

The head of the prison declined to be interviewed, nor would he allow access to the prisoners.

But guards said there were 58 Taliban prisoners — “all Punjabis” — at the Baharaq jail, in the upper Panjshir valley, some 200 kms north of Kabul.

“Some of them were captured five years ago, some three years ago, and some just a few months ago,” said one of the guards.

They were captured, he added, in various parts of the Shomali Plain, which borders the Panjshir valley.

Most had been set free and others were also due for release but he could not say when.

According to Aji Tajiddin, father-in-law of slain Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Masood, at one stage there were 800 to 900 Taliban fighters held in the prison.

“There were Chechens and Pakistanis and Arabs and Chinese,” Tajiddin said in the village of Bazaraq, Masood’s home town in the heart of the Panjshir valley.

“They were captured trying to attack the Panjshir,” Tajiddin said. “But no Taliban ever managed to set foot inside the valley. The only ones who got here were the prisoners.”

He said he would like to see Afghan Taliban tried in Afghanistan, but foreigners should be sent to an international tribunal.

“We don’t want them in our country any longer. They have done enough damage in Afghanistan.”

On Saturday, US Air Force General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Washington that 445 Taliban fighters and Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network men had now been handed to US forces.

Hundreds of other Taliban prisoners were freed in various parts of the country earlier this month on the orders of Afghanistan’s interim leader Hamid Karzai, who had promised to grant an amnesty to rank-and-file Taliban fighters.

Afghan government officials say that all Taliban officials who committed crimes or who “betrayed the Afghan people” should be brought to justice.

Tajiddin said Afghan people bore a particular resentment towards Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

“We want him captured and brought to trial in Afghanistan,” he said. “He must be judged under Sharia law,” he added.—AFP

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