ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Jan. 1 (UPI) -- Pakistan released Afghan Taliban ex-minister Mullah Nooruddin Turabi from custody following talks with Afghan officials on the peace process, the BBC reported.
Senior Afghan officials confirmed to the BBC Turabi and three other Taliban prisoners were released by Pakistan. Islamabad and the Afghan Peace Council have been discussing ways since November to move the peace process forward. Pakistan is seen as key to the success of any peace effort.
In a similar move earlier, Pakistan released 13 Afghan Taliban members in November, the report said. However, Pakistan is still holding Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former second in command of the Afghan Taliban, and several other Taliban prisoners.
The hope of the Afghan government is that the freed Taliban prisoners can help in convincing the insurgent group to come to the peace talks. NATO and U.S. troops are scheduled to end combat operations in Afghanistan by 2014 and hand over the security of the country to Afghan security forces.
Afghan officials told the BBC other Afghan Taliban prisoners released along with Turabi were former Gov. Mullah Abdul Bari, former Deputy Communications Minister Mullah Allahdad, and Mullah Azam, a former guard of Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
Afghan officials told the BBC they hoped the release of the high-ranking Turabi, who had been justice minister during the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, would further encourage field commanders to lay down their weapons. The Taliban regime was routed in 2001.
Turabi, who was arrested in Karachi seven years ago, also was described as having been a close aide of Mullah Omar but currently is believed to be in poor health.
The Afghan High Peace Council was set up by Afghan President Hamid Karzai two years ago to start negotiations with the Taliban, which distrusts the Kabul government.