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Sharif frees 16 Taleban inmates in bid to revive shaky peace talks All released prisoners belong to Mehsud tribe

ISLAMABAD, April 3, (RTRS): Pakistan has freed at least sixteen Taleban prisoners with the approval of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, officials said on Thursday, in a move designed to invigorate a shaky peace process with the militant group. The Pakistani Taleban called a one-month ceasefire on March 1 but said this week they would not extend the truce because the government was not serious about meeting their demands. The demands include releasing 800 prisoners the insurgent group describes as innocent family members and withdrawing the army from parts of the semi-autonomous tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.

The political agent of South Waziristan, the highest government official in the northwestern tribal region, confirmed the government has started releasing non-combatant prisoners to boost reconcilliation efforts. “South Waziristan’s political administration released sixteen men on April 1,” Islam Zeb told Reuters. “They are not major commanders. They are innocent tribals who were arrested during different search operations in South Waziristan in the last two to three years.” Zeb said all the released prisoners belonged to the Mehsud tribe, a major Pashtun tribe living in South Waziristan. Another 100 prisoners on the Taleban’s list were being processed and would be released in the next few days, he added.

Taleban negotiators were not immediately available to comment on the releases. Intelligence officials confirmed that the prisoners were brought to the Zari Noor army camp in Wana, the region’s main town. The enclave on the Afghan border was once the epicentre of a spreading Taleban insurgency and the site of a major military offensive in 2009 that displaced half a million people. Security officials said once at Wana, the prisoners were handed over to office of the political agent, who then released them to the Taleban. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif personally authorised the releases, a source in his office said — an apparent sign the premier is giving in to pressure from the Pakistan Taleban and resisting those in the military arguing for tougher military action against militant strongholds. “But they (released prisoners) are all non-combatant civilians.

They are not sensitive figures,” the prime minister’s aide said. “Maybe some of them are Taleban sympathisers but they are not commanders and have no role in the talks process.” “Releasing them will create goodwill and we hope they (Taleban) will reciprocate,” he added. Sharif, who took power last year promising to strike a negotiated peace with the Taleban, has been trying to engage the militants, who want to topple his government and enforce severe Islamic law.

But talks broke down last month, when a Taleban wing operating in the Mohmand Pashtun tribal region said it had executed 23 soldiers in revenge for the killing of its fighters by the security forces. Islamabad then refused to hold further talks until the Taleban announced a ceasefire on March 1. The second round of peace talks now hangs in the balance after the Taleban announced on Wednesday they would not extend the ceasefire and warned that attacks would begin again in Pakistan. Pakistan was not entirely peaceful during the ceasefire either. On Wednesday night, a bomb exploded near a bridge just 30 minutes before the convoy of former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, who is on trial for treason, passed by. The retired general was not harmed.

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