Pakistan agrees to release several TTP prisoners: report

"There have been a series of fruitful meetings between the Pakistan government and leaders of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan": source

Mushtaq Yusufzai
Reuters picture shows TTP militants.
Reuters picture shows TTP militants. 

There has been a positive development in talks between the Pakistan government and Afghanistan-based Pakistani Taliban as Islamabad has reportedly agreed to release several Taliban prisoners in the first phase and in return, the militants will declare a ceasefire.

Sources told The News that Pakistan has reportedly agreed to free several prisoners in the first phase that would encourage the Taliban militants to declare a country-wide ceasefire.

"The prisoners were supposed to be freed on November 1 this year but then there were some technical issues that delayed the release process. Then they were required to be freed on November 4 but again it didn’t happen due to some reasons," one of the two sources privy to the negotiations told The News

He said some of the prisoners including top Taliban leaders in Swat, Mehmood Khan and Muslim Khan, were taken to Afghanistan for their likely release. Muslim Khan was a spokesman for the Swat Taliban. He (Muslim Khan) and Mehmood Khan as well as some senior Taliban leaders were invited to a meeting by the security officials in 2009 in Swat but then they were returned.

There were also reports that Maulvi Omar, a former spokesman for the TTP, was also in the first batch of prisoners supposed to be freed as a goodwill gesture. Neither the Pakistani authorities nor the Taliban spokesman Mohammad Khurasani officially confirmed this development. However, Taliban sources said that some of the prisoners phoned their family members for the first time in 13 years and informed them about their safety.

According to sources, the Pakistani Taliban had initially demanded the release of five senior militant leaders so that they start trusting the Pakistan government and it's seriousness in talks. "Pakistani authorities themselves offered to [release] 102 prisoners, including the five important leaders so that the peace process could yield results," said the sources.

According to sources, all the prisoners had been collected from different prisons in Pakistan and taken to Miransha, the headquarters of North Waziristan, for their likely shifting to Khost in Afghanistan and handing over to the Afghan Taliban for their subsequent release.

"None of the prisoners had been shifted to Afghanistan yet. They are still in Miranshah but can be taken any time across the border in Afghanistan," said the sources. According to insiders, most of the hurdles to the peace process had been removed and the two sides had agreed on a future agenda.

"There have been a series of fruitful meetings between the Pakistan government and leaders of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. The first meeting had taken place in Kabul after the fall of Kabul and then two sessions were held in Khost province of Afghanistan in which the two sides exchanged views and proposals for a meaningful dialogue," said one member of the negotiation team on condition of anonymity.

Pleading anonymity, he said the peace initiative had first started from the Bajaur tribal district in February this year when some religious-cum-tribal elders close to Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, offered their services in bridging the gap between the Pakistan government and the Pakistani Taliban.

Maulvi Faqir Mohammad was the TTP leader in Bajaur and was once second to Hakimullah Mehsud. The Afghan forces had arrested him in Afghanistan and put him in the Bagram jail. He was among thousands of prisoners who got freed when the Afghan Taliban took over Kabul and was given a warm welcome by the Pakistani Taliban and taken to Kunar in a big motorcade.

According to sources, when they first met the Pakistan government and military officials, they agreed and shared their views about peace negotiations, welcomed their proposal and gave them a free hand to develop contacts with the Pakistani Taliban leaders in Afghanistan.

Initially, a two-member delegation travelled to Afghanistan and held some initial meetings with senior leaders of the TTP, who agreed with them but said they would take part in meaningful negotiations only," a source privy to the negotiations said.

He added that two more elders were later added to the negotiation team that shuttled between Kabul and Islamabad and succeeded in removing the mistrust between the Pakistan government and the Pakistani Taliban.

"Two more meetings were later held in Khost which were quite fruitful and the two sides decided to take the peace process to a logical end. The fall of Kabul helped us a lot as we approached the top leadership of the Afghan Taliban and requested them to play their role in purposeful peace negotiations between these two sides," he said.

According to sources, the Afghan Taliban then gave the task to Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani Network and interior minister of Afghanistan, and he then played a vital role in the peace process.

According to sources, Maulvi Faqir Mohammad then himself also played a key role in the peace process between the Pakistani government and the Taliban. "We are quite hopeful of the peace process and much of the hurdles have been removed. The peace accord would be made public in the next few days," a source close to the peace process told The News.

He said all Taliban factions had been taken into confidence before starting the peace process and all of them supported it. They said the Afghan Taliban had agreed to become guarantors in the proposed peace accord. 

Meanwhile, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Hussain Chaudhry issued a statement in this regard but, later he withdrew the same. 

Originally published in The News