Salahuddin Rabbani, left, head of Afghanistan High Peace Council, shakes hand with Pakistan's Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf prior to their meeting in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan freed several Taliban prisoners at the request of the Afghan government Wednesday, a move meant to facilitate the process of striking a peace deal with the militant group in neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistani officials said.
The release of the prisoners — described as mid- and low-level fighters — is the most encouraging sign yet that Pakistan may be willing to help jumpstart peace talks that have mostly gone nowhere, hobbled by distrust among the major players involved, including the United States.
Pakistan is seen as key to the process because of its historical ties to the Taliban and because many of the group's leaders are believed to be based on Pakistani territory, having fled there following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Wednesday's release of the Taliban militants came in response to a personal request by Salahuddin Rabbani, the head of an Afghan government council for peace talks with the Taliban, said a Pakistani government official and an intelligence official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media about the release.
Rabbani is in Islamabad on a three-day visit that ends Wednesday.
The seven released were “low- and mid-level” fighters, and it is up to them whether they go back to Afghanistan to participate in peace talks, said the Pakistani government official.
Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai said he could neither confirm nor deny the prisoner release.