The Afghan peace process has made little headway since it began several years ago, hobbled by distrust among the major players, including the United States. But it appears to be getting a new push in recent months with a high-level peace commission traveling from Afghanistan to Pakistan and Pakistani officials releasing 26 Taliban prisoners since November.
Part of the reason for the recent peace push is that Pakistani government and military officials are worried that if American troops leave without a plan in place, Afghanistan could deteriorate into another round of vicious infighting. After the Soviets pulled out in 1989, many of the militants who had helped best that superpower then turned on each other in what played out as a vicious war across the country.
A repeat of that scenario could have horrific consequences for Pakistan, such as a flood of Afghan refugees across its borders and increased fighting in Pakistan's tribal areas, where the military is already trying to suppress a stubborn insurgency.
The Afghan and U.S. governments have long accused Islamabad of backing insurgents — an allegation Pakistan denies — and say many militant leaders are hiding in the country.
Whether the recent detainee releases will play a significant role in the peace process remains to be seen. The U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, James Cunningham, said on Thursday that although their release was a positive step, there was no indication of where the former detainees had gone.
He said the Afghan government was trying to ensure they did not return to the insurgency.
He said the Pakistanis so far have taken a "hands-off kind of approach to the people that they have released."
All officials spoke anonymously as they were not authorized to talk to the media.