Afghan negotiator welcomes prisoner release

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KABUL, Afghanistan — A top Afghan negotiator said today he hopes eight Taliban members freed by Pakistan will serve as peace mediators, describing Islamabad’s move as a major step forward for Kabul’s effort to enlist its neighbor’s help in negotiating an end to its 11-year war.

The eight released Monday include the Taliban’s justice minister when the militants ruled Afghanistan before their 2001 overthrow, as well as a onetime guard of Taliban leader Mullah Omar. It was the second group of prisoners released by Pakistan.

Although both sides describe the deal as a step toward peace, much about the release remains unclear. Kabul has lobbied hard for Pakistan to release some Taliban prisoners as a step toward talks, but simultaneously presses Islamabad to crack down on militants using its territory.

Islamabad for its part has never said why it arrested the eight in the first place. Another 100 prisoners are believed to remain in Pakistani custody.

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