PESHAWAR: Three former governors are among the Afghan Taliban prisoners who have been released by the Pakistan government as a gesture of goodwill to Afghanistan’s High Peace Council delegation that left for home Thursday after a four-day visit.
Taliban sources told The News that former governor of the northern Baghlan province Mulla Abdul Salam, commonly known as Mulla Mohammad, was freed in Karachi. They said Mir Ahmad Gul, often referred to as Mir Sahib, who served as governor of the eastern Nangarhar province, had also been released. Besides, they said Daud Jalali, former governor of Kabul province, was also freed.
A senior Taliban official, on condition of anonymity, said he couldn’t confirm information that Mulla Nooruddin Turabi, the elderly former minister of justice in the Taliban government, had been released. He said Turabi could possibly be freed as he was old and ill and had been in the custody of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency for almost 10 years.
Taliban sources said the Pakistani authorities would not want Turabi to meet the same fate as Mulla Obaidullah, the former Taliban deputy leader, who reportedly died in custody of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) early this year. Turabi, who enjoys respect in the Taliban rank and file and was known as a hardliner, lost his leg fighting the Soviet occupying forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Afghan government officials were quoted as saying that Anwarul Haq Mujahid, the eldest son of the late mujahideen leader Maulvi Yunis Khalis, had also been released. However, Taliban officials were not yet confirming his release. Anwarul Haq Mujahid, who had formed the Tora Bora Mahaz named after the valley in his native Nangarhar province that was heavily bombed by US air force in December 2001 to get Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, was arrested in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2009. He later aligned the Tora Bora Mahaz with the Taliban movement.
Taliban sources initially said nine of their men had been released in Pakistan from different prisons and they largely belonged to Kandahar and Paktia provinces. Later, it was reported that up to 13 Taliban prisoners had been freed. Most were middle or low level Taliban officials and could not be expected to represent the Mulla Mohammad Omar-led Taliban movement in peace talks with the Afghan government, the US or any other entity.
Sources in the Taliban movement said a number of their detained men had also been shifted to the Central Prison Peshawar and other jails from secret detention centres in a possible move to release them in the coming days.
According to Taliban officials, their former deputy head Mulla Abdul Ghani Biradar had not been freed. They said other important Taliban figures such as Abdul Ahad Jehangirwal, who once served as secretary to Mulla Omar, and former Taliban spokesman Qari Yousaf also were still in the custody of Pakistani intelligence agency.
The High Peace Council, led by Salahuddin Rabbani, had reportedly demanded the release of a number of Taliban figures, including Biradar, Turabi, Jehangirwal and Mujahid as it felt they had occupied important positions in the Taliban movement and government and could be useful in influencing Mulla Omar and his shura in agreeing to peace talks with the Afghan authorities.
However, the Taliban officials who spoke to this correspondent said there was no change in their policy even after the release of some of their men as they didn’t recognise the Afghan government and the High Peace Council and had no intention of entering into peace talks with the ‘powerless’ Afghan rulers. They said even senior Taliban leaders such as Biradar and Turabi now in Pakistani custody would have the authority to represent the Taliban in case they were released.
Taliban officials said they had been asking the Pakistan government to release their men as they had not committed any crime in the country, but their demand wasn’t accepted. “Now the Pakistan government has freed them as a goodwill gesture to the High Peace Council and the Afghan government and not as a result of any consultation with the Taliban movement,” he argued.