KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, set up to oversee peace talks with the Taliban, has had no formal meetings with any of the 46 Taliban prisoners released in neighbouring Pakistan, an official said on Friday, despite pleas to be present when they are freed.
Pakistan began releasing small batches of Afghan Taliban prisoners in 2012 at the request of Kabul which wants to use the men as interlocutors to pursue peace talks with the insurgents, who are ramping up attacks as NATO troops withdraw and the country prepares for April 5 elections.
The Afghans wanted a delegation present at each release. But they complained that Pakistan does not tell them before prisoners are freed, raising question about Pakistan’s sincerity in wanting to help bring an end to the war.
Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan, which faces a Taliban insurgency of its own, of backing the hardline Afghan Taliban, in power from 1996 to 2001 and seeking to oust foreign forces and set up an Islamic state.
The Afghan Taliban said on Monday the elections were being manipulated by the United States and threatened to attack anyone taking part.
“We want all prisoners to be given into Afghan custody,” said a high-ranking member of the council.
“Members of the High Peace Council should have a chance to see them and talk to them and say look, we have been asking for your release, now you have been released, it would be better for us to cooperate to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.”
Instead, Pakistan only informs the Afghans after the men are released, he said, speaking anonymously to avoid jeopardizing ongoing talks.
The council had managed to establish informal contact through intermediaries with around 15 of the 46 freed prisoners, he said, but had had no direct meetings. Almost all were in Pakistan. The council had no idea where the other prisoners were, he said, but thought they were also in Pakistan.
A Pakistani foreign office spokeswoman said Islamabad had set up at least one meeting but that other freed prisoners might be unwilling to meet the Afghans.
“Some people are not ready for that,” said spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam. “Our position remains that we have released these people at the request of Afghanistan and the High Peace Council. We have facilitated their meeting. We will continue to do that... doubting Pakistan’s sincerity is not helpful.”
She pointed out that Pakistan had arranged a November meeting between the council delegation and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former Taliban number two captured in the port city of Karachi seven years ago.
Pakistan announced in September that it had freed Baradar but the council says he is under house arrest in Pakistan and does not count him on its list of released prisoners.
The council official said the prisoner releases had still been helpful in “building confidence” with the Taliban by demonstrating the council had the power to get Taliban commanders out of jail.
But asked if any of those released had become involved in the peace process, he said simply: “No. They have not given them to us. I don’t know where they are.”
Reporting by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Nick Macfie