Islamabad hands over top Pakistani Taliban commanders to Afghan mediators

by IANS |

Kabul, May 13 (IANS) Pakistan has handed over two top commanders of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to the Afghan Taliban, which has been mediating peace talks between the two sides, as part of efforts to revive negotiations with the militant group, RFE/RL reported.

Muslim Khan and Mehmood Khan were recently transferred from a military detention facility to the custody of the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt, said sources with knowledge of the matter.

The move came as a delegation of senior Pakistani military officials arrived in Kabul on May 9 for talks with the TTP leadership, said sources with knowledge of the negotiations.

As a confidence-building measure, the TTP agreed a temporary cease-fire from May 10 to 15, according to a decree issued by the TTP leadership and seen by RFE/RL. The militant group had announced a unilateral truce from April 29 to May 9 to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan and the start of the Eid holiday.

The talks between the Pakistani delegation and the TTP are being mediated by the Afghan Taliban, which has close ideological and organizational ties with the TTP. The Afghan militant group is also a longtime ally of Islamabad, its main foreign sponsor.

The negotiations came as the TTP, also known as the Pakistani Taliban, has intensified its attacks in Pakistan since a monthlong cease-fire expired and peace talks collapsed in December, RFE/RL reported.

Since then, Islamabad has sent secret delegations to Afghanistan to hold talks with the TTP on reviving the expired truce and resuming talks over a negotiated end to the TTP's 14-year insurgency in Pakistan, where thousands of people have been killed in militant attacks and clashes between the TTP and the military.

The TTP has demanded the release of 102 commanders and fighters in Pakistani prisons. Pakistan had released most of the TTP prisoners but had been reluctant to free Muslim Khan and Mehmood Khan.

The TTP has also demanded the implementation of Islamic Shar'ia law in Pakistan's tribal belt, a demand that observers said the government would likely reject.

The two commanders will be released from the custody of the Afghan Taliban once the TTP agrees a permanent cease-fire with Islamabad, said a source with knowledge of the negotiations, RFE/RL reported.

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