ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Saturday released its most senior Afghan Taliban detainee Abdul Ghani Baradar, a senior official told AFP, in a move welcomed by Kabul who hope it will encourage peace talks with the insurgents.
Baradar, a one-time military chief often described as the militants’ former second-in-command, was the most high profile detained Taliban commander in Pakistan.
“Yes Baradar has been released,” Omar Hamid, a spokesman for Pakistan's interior ministry told news agency AFP, without elaborating on the circumstances of the release.
The Pakistani foreign office also confirmed the release in a short statement.
“Mullah Baradar was released this morning,” Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, the spokesman for foreign ministry, told AFP via text message. He added: “Released in Pakistan. No further details available with me”.
Afghanistan’s High Peace Council (HPC) welcomed the release and thanked Pakistan’s government.
“We welcome his release. And we thank the government of Pakistan that showed goodwill and answered positively to the request of Afghanistan government,” Mohammad Esmail Qasimyar, senior member of HPC, told AFP.
“Baradar is someone who has always been eager to join peace negotiations, and we hope he joins peace talks soon. We are optimistic about it, he is still an influential figure, and the Taliban still respect him,” Qasimyar said.
Pakistan’s foreign office on Friday said that Baradar’s release would facilitate Afghanistan’s reconciliation process with the Taliban as a Nato combat mission there winds down.
The Taliban opened an office in Doha in June as a precursor to possible talks but it was quickly shut down after Karzai reacted furiously when they put up a flag and plaque as if they were a government-in-exile.
However, the Taliban’s spokesman in Afghanistan, Zabihullah Mujahid said they could not yet confirm the move.
“We only heard through the media that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will be released. We have not received any official confirmation about his release,” Mujahid told AFP in Kabul.
The Afghan government has long demanded that Islamabad free Baradar.
He was arrested January 2010 in the southern port city of Karachi, reportedly in a secret raid by CIA and Pakistani agents, in an operation that was described as a huge blow to the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan until a US-led invasion in 2001.
At the time of his detention Baradar was reported to have been the Taliban’s second-in-command, the right hand man of the supreme commander Mullah Omar.
He was the most senior member of the Taliban held after US-led troops invaded Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept 11 attacks, bringing down the radical religious regime.
His release brings to 34 the number of Taliban detainees that Pakistan has freed since last year, in what Afghan officials hope will encourage peace talks with Taliban insurgents.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai had asked Pakistan to help open direct dialogue between his government and the Taliban, who consider Karzai an “American puppet” and have refused to hold discussions with his government.
But Sartaj Aziz, the main adviser to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on national security and foreign affairs had said that Baradar would not be handed over to Kabul, and analysts agree his release will have little impact on talks.
Political analyst Talat Masood said the announcement was a “sort of a confidence-building measure between Pakistan and Afghanistan”.
“However, this release is not likely to make any significant difference in the negotiating process,” he said.
The details of where Baradar will go after being freed are unclear. There has been speculation he could head to Turkey or Saudi Arabia, but a Taliban source told AFP he would probably stay in Karachi, where his family is said to be based.
Born in 1968 in the southern province of Uruzgan, Abdul Ghani Baradar fought the occupying Soviet forces in the late 1980s before becoming one of the founding members of the Taliban movement.