Eighteen Taliban Prisoners Released by Pakistan

Attempting to jump-start flagging peace talks, the Pakistani government announced Saturday that it had freed seven Afghan Taliban prisoners in response to a request made by Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a visit to Islamabad a few weeks ago .

"They have just been released," said a spokesman for Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "The objective is to facilitate the reconciliation process."

But Karzai's main demand on his visit had been the release of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former deputy leader of the Taliban, who'd been arrested by Pakistani authorities in 2010. Baradar wasn't among those let go on Saturday.

"We expect additional and more significant steps by Pakistan [...] including the release of Mullah Baradar and other senior Taliban leaders currently in Pakistani jails," a senior Afghan official said.

But he also called it "a positive but small step by the Pakistani government in support of our peace efforts in Afghanistan."

One of those let go on Saturday was Mansoor Dadullah, who served as a military commander for the Taliban in Afghanistan until he was arrested in February 2008.

Karzai's hope is that by demanding their release, he'll be able to start direct peace talks with insurgents (who have thus far refused discussions, accusing him of being a "puppet" for the West).

Also on Saturday, a female Afghan parliamentarian was freed by the Taliban in exchange for eleven of their prisoners — whom they claimed were " innocent women and two children." Fariba Ahmadi Kaka, one of 69 female deputies in the lower house of parliament, was abducted while driving to Kabul last month.

Afghan authorities are also calling on Pakistan to use their influence to facilitate a direct meeting between Taliban representatives and members of the Afghan Peace Council.