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Pakistan to free top Taliban prisoner Mullah Baradar

Updated September 20, 2013

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Mullah Baradar. — File photo
Mullah Baradar. — File photo

ISLAMABAD: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the senior most Afghan Taliban in Pakistan’s custody, would walk out of detention centre on Saturday amid the hope that he could be the game-changer for the stalemated reconciliation process in Afghanistan.

In order to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process, the detained Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, would be released tomorrow (21 September 2013), said a press release issued by the Foreign Office on Friday.

The announcement came hours after Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI Director General Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Pakistan’s top official on foreign affairs and national security, earlier in the month had said that Baradar could be released as soon as this month.

“In principle, we have agreed to release him. The timing is being discussed. It should be very soon ... I think within this month,” said Sartaj Aziz, advisor on foreign affairs and national security to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

“Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will be freed into Pakistan and he will remain in the country until he decides himself to move anywhere he deems necessary to initiate the peace process,” he told Dawn.com on Monday.

Aziz, however, added that the former Taliban second-in-command will not be handed over to Afghanistan. “Handing over the key Taliban commander to Afghanistan will sabotage the purpose behind the decision of releasing him,” he said.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry did not make any statement about his future but an official and a Taliban source in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa said that Baradar was expected to stay at home in Karachi where his family lived.

“He will be kept as a simple guy in the network, who can convey messages from time to time but who will not be able to reintegrate the Shura and regain power,” the Taliban official said.

Born in 1968 in the southern province of Uruzgan, Mullah Baradar fought the occupying Soviet forces in the late 1980s before becoming one of the founding members of the Taliban movement.

When the Taliban took over in Kabul in 1996 after years of civil war, the young Baradar was a trusted friend of Mullah Omar and rose to become the movement’s top military strategist.

After the fall of the Taliban, senior militants fled across the border to rear bases in Pakistan, where Mullah Baradar became a member of the so-called Quetta Shura, the movement’s ruling council. He was captured from the port city of Karachi in February, 2010.

Rahimullah Yusufzai, an analyst and expert in tribal affairs, said Mullah Baradar’s release would have little impact because “he is no longer as important for Taliban as he used to be”.

He said the Taliban would prefer to watch Baradar for some time before assigning him any role. 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.

Meanwhile, the Afghan government has welcomed Pakistan's announcement regarding release of Abdul Ghani Baradar, saying the move would help peace efforts after 12 years of war.

“We welcome that this step is being taken,” Aimal Faizi, spokesman for Afghan president Hamid Karzai told AFP.

“We believe this will help the Afghan peace process. This is something we have been calling for a long time. It was on the agenda when the president visited Pakistan, so we are pleased.”

Karzai made a two-day trip to Pakistan last month in a bid to overcome a series of public rows that have hampered efforts to end the war in Afghanistan as US-led Nato combat troops withdraw.

During the visit, the Afghan president urged Pakistan to help arrange peace talks between his government and the Taliban.

Elements of the Pakistani state are widely accused of funding, controlling and sheltering the Taliban, but Islamabad says it will do anything to stop the fighting in Afghanistan.

Mullah Baradar would be the first Taliban prisoner to be released under the mechanism agreed by the two sides at the Chequers summit in the UK in February this year under which Islamabad is to consult Kabul and release prisoners belonging to Afghan Taliban after its consent.

Pakistan had in advance notified the Afghans about the release of seven Taliban earlier this month — the first batch freed after the Chequers agreement. But the Afghan government had not formally assented to the names of the militants Islamabad had then proposed. However, Pakistani authorities had gone ahead with their release.

Pakistan has released at least 33 Taliban prisoners over the last year at the Afghan government's request in an attempt to boost peace negotiations between the insurgents and Kabul.

None of the previously released detainees is known to have helped in taking the reconciliation process forward.

While Afghan officials have on a number of occasions expressed their frustration over the released men not helping in reconciliation, Pakistan’s own assessment is not too different.

Security officials said the released prisoners had moved back to their homes or settled with their families elsewhere but had not been playing their role.

“But Mullah Baradar is an important man, he can be the game changer,” an official said.

While there have been high hopes that he would revive the reconciliation process by wooing moderate Taliban leaders, many sceptics’ think otherwise.

How Mullah Baradar’s release eventually plays out will largely depend on how effectively he reintegrates into Taliban hierarchy and whether or not the militant group’s rank and file accepts his leadership.

US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins had said on Monday that Taliban appeared to be unwilling to engage with the US or the Afghan government or its main body charged with coordinating the reconciliation process — High Peace Council.

Afghanistan has in the past called on Pakistan to release Taliban prisoners into its custody. But they have instead been set free in Pakistan, and it was likely the same would happen with Baradar.

The most recent attempt to push forward peace negotiations foundered in June in the Qatari capital of Doha. The Afghan president pulled the plug on the talks even before they began because he was angered that the group marked the opening of its Doha political office with the flag, anthem and symbols of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan – the group's name when they ruled the country.