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Afghan welcomes prisoner release

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A top Afghan negotiator said Tuesday he hopes eight Taliban members freed by Pakistan will serve as peace mediators, describing Islamabad’s move as a major step forward for Kabul’s effort to enlist its neighbor’s help in negotiating an end to its 11-year war.

The eight released Monday include the Taliban’s justice minister when the militants ruled Afghanistan before their 2001 overthrow, as well as a onetime guard of Taliban leader Mullah Omar. It was the second group of prisoners released by Pakistan.

Although both sides describe the deal as a step toward peace, much about the release remains unclear. Kabul has lobbied hard for Pakistan to release some Taliban prisoners as a step toward talks, but simultaneously presses Islamabad to crack down on militants using its territory. It has not said what, if anything, this particular group might bring to the table.

Islamabad for its part has never said why it arrested the eight in the first place. Neither side has said where this batch of freed prisoners and a previous group of 18 released in November have gone, nor what they will be doing. Another 100 prisoners are believed to remain in Pakistani custody.

In Kabul, the spokesman for President Hamid Karzai said the Afghan leader would discuss the peace negotiations with U.S. President Barack Obama. Karzai departs for Washington early next week.

Karzai will also bring up the ongoing handover of security from NATO to Afghan forces, training and equipment the forces and the shape of a U.S.-Afghan agreement after Washington withdraws most of its troops, spokesman Aimal Faizi told a news conference. NATO plans to hand security responsibility over to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.

The spokesman welcomed the prisoner release, but gave no details.

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