Pakistan releases 7 Taleban prisoners 'to facilitate Afghan reconciliation'

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan on Saturday announced the release of seven senior Afghan Taleban figures to help the peace process in war-torn neighbour Afghanistan, the Foreign Ministry said.

"In order to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process, Pakistan is releasing seven Taliban detainees namely Mansoor Dadullah, Said Wali, Abdul Manan, Karim Agha, Sher Afzal, Gul Muhammad and Muhammad Zai," it said in a statement.

"These releases are in addition to 26 Taleban detainees released during the last year," it added.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai was in Pakistan for two days last week and met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for the first time since Mr Sharif's election in May.

Infuriated by the opening in June of a Taleban office in Qatar, considered a precursor towards talks with United States officials, Mr Karzai wants Pakistan to help open a dialogue with the insurgents.

But analysts doubt whether Pakistan has the influence to force the Taleban to the negotiating table - and the insurgents have publicly refused all contact with Mr Karzai's government, branding it a US puppet.

Mr Karzai said Afghanistan expected Pakistan to provide "opportunities or a platform for talks between the Afghan High Peace Council" - Kabul's official negotiators - and the Taleban.

In the past, the Afghan leader has identified Taleban havens in Pakistan as the main cause of increased violence in his country.

Afghan government peace negotiators accompanying Mr Karzai earlier called for the release of the most senior Taleban figure detained in Pakistan, former deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Afghan officials believe former detainees may talk to the Kabul government, although observers say there is little evidence those hopes have been realised.

Elements of the Pakistani state are widely accused of funding, controlling and sheltering the Taleban. Islamabad says publicly it will do anything to stop the fighting in Afghanistan.

Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul said on Thursday that fears of a resurgent Taleban when the bulk of Western forces withdraw from Afghanistan next year were overblown.

Around 87,000 US-led Nato troops are to leave Afghanistan next year, putting the country's police and troops in charge of security nationwide.