ISLAMABAD – Afghanistan on Friday refused to hand over senior Pakistani Taliban commander Maulvi Faqir Mohammad hours after Islamabad requested his extradition following his capture by Afghan forces.
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar had taken up the matter with Afghanistan asking her Afghan counterpart Zalmai Rassoul, during a phone conversation on Wednesday night, to hand over Faqir Mohammad but Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Janan Musazai ruled out his extradition.
The Taliban commander was captured by Afghan intelligence operatives in the eastern part of Afghanistan on Monday. During a weekly news briefing, Pakistan Foreign Office Spokesman Moazzam Khan had said: “We hope that he would be handed over to Pakistan as soon as possible because he has the blood of many innocent Pakistanis on his hands.” Hours later, the Afghan foreign ministry rejected Pakistan's request, saying there was no agreement between the two countries for exchanging prisoners.
The Afghan government's investigation into the recent capture of Faqir ‘is still ongoing’, Afghan Foreign Ministry Spokesman Musazai said.
In a statement, Musazai indicated the refusal might be a tit-for-tat move as Pakistan had rejected Afghan request to hand over certain Afghan Taliban prisoners during a recent tripartite summit in London.
“During the recent tripartite meeting in London, the Afghan government requested the Pakistani government to return Afghan Taliban prisoners held by Pakistan to Afghanistan so that they could participate in and support Afghanistan's peace and reconciliation efforts,” Mr Musazai said. “The Pakistani side responded that they could definitely not hand over Taliban prisoners to the Afghan government because there is no prisoner exchange agreement between the two countries,” Musazai said.
He said the Afghan government believes the return of Afghan Taliban prisoners to Afghanistan is in the best interests of a meaningful peace process, and it was prepared to further discuss the issue with the Pakistani government.
Maulvi Faqir, a former deputy chief of the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, was removed following reports that he was involved in ‘unauthorised’ talks with Pakistani authorities.
He had confirmed in an interview last year that he was twice contacted by a Pakistani religious leader on behalf of a top security official. The commander fled to Afghanistan after the military launched an operation against him in Bajaur tribal region in 2008.
Reports surfaced this week that Faqir had been arrested by Afghan security officials as he tried to cross the Pakistani border, but Afghan officials have said that they are still trying to confirm his identity.
However, according to Pakistan's foreign ministry, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul told his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar that Faqir had been captured.
Pakistan says it has released 26 Afghan Taliban prisoners in a move that was initially welcomed as a sign of increasing cooperation between the two countries, whose relations have traditionally been mired in distrust.
Afghan officials believe released prisoners could help persuade the Taliban to enter into peace talks.
But they want other detainees, including former Afghan Taliban deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar, handed over to Kabul rather than freed in Pakistan. Security officials say at least some of the released prisoners have returned to the battlefield.
The Afghan foreign ministry said Friday that Pakistan had refused to return prisoners to Afghanistan on the grounds that "there is no prisoner exchange agreement between the two countries".
"The Afghan government still believes that the return of Afghan Taliban prisoners to Afghanistan is in the best interests of a meaningful Afghan peace process," it said in a statement.
"And the Afghan government is prepared to discuss this further with the Pakistani government."