Pakistan has begun releasing some Afghan Taleban prisoners who the Kabul government believes could help in reconciliation efforts, the clearest sign that Islamabad will support the troubled Afghan peace process.
Afghan officials, hopeful that direct contact with Taleban commanders could give them leverage in any peace talks, have long urged Pakistan for access to prisoners.
The task of energising the Afghan peace process is gaining urgency as Nato combat troops prepare to withdraw by the end of 2014. Some Afghans fear the country could face civil war or another Taleban takeover if insurgents are not brought into a binding peace process before then.
It is not clear why Pakistan made the gesture at this time but it has come under mounting pressure to support American efforts to stabilise Afghanistan as the endgame nears.
A senior Pakistani army official said it had not yet been decided if the former Afghan Taleban second in command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, would be released.
Afghan officials have identified him as a figure who may command enough respect to persuade the Taleban to pursue peace after more than a decade of fighting the western alliance and Afghan forces.
Afghan officials have suspected that Pakistan has been holding Afghan Taleban members in jail to retain some control over peace efforts and have a say in any settlement.
Those in detention include former justice minister Mullah Nooruddin Toorabi and Mullah Jahangirwal, former secretary of Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and Allahdat Tayab, an ex-deputy minister, Afghan officials said. “We have asked Pakistan to release them because they were the policymakers of the Taleban and close aides to Mullah Omar,” said Habibullah Fawzi, of the Afghan peace team.