THE reported release from detention is another sign that at a minimum confidence-building measures are being taken to nudge the peace process along. More than eight years since he was captured in Pakistan and five years since he was nearly officially released, it appears that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar has been freed by the Pakistani state. An Afghan Taliban spokesperson has acknowledged the release of the former senior Taliban leader, though it is not clear where Mullah Baradar is at the moment or where he intends to relocate. Media reports suggest that a recent visit to Pakistan by the Qatari foreign minister may have helped paved the way for Mullah Baradar’s release. Qatar hosts the political office of the Taliban that is likely to play an important role in at least the early stages of a peace process inside Afghanistan. In addition, the US envoy for Afghan reconciliation is reported to have helped coordinate the release of Mullah Baradar from Pakistani custody. Perhaps the weeks and months ahead will also help establish Mullah Baradar’s present-day influence with the Afghan Taliban. At the time of his capture in Pakistan, Mullah Baradar was widely respected and had significant influence with the rank and file of the Afghan Taliban.
However, the Taliban leadership has changed at least twice since Mullah Baradar was detained in 2010, and independent analysts suggest that his incarceration in Pakistan may have caused some among the insurgents to question his loyalties. Nevertheless, reports of Mullah Baradar’s release will add to a general sense that there could be a meaningful peace process under way in Afghanistan relatively soon. As before, the two key issues will likely be the willingness of the US to engage the Afghan Taliban in dialogue and the readiness of the latter to reach an agreement with Kabul. Another factor could be the imminent winter lull in fighting, which in recent years has meant more high-profile and deadly attacks in cities — if Kabul or other power centres are bombed, it could make it more difficult for the Afghan government to pursue peace. For Pakistan, the challenge remains to facilitate an Afghan peace process that produces a stable balance of power inside Afghanistan. Mullah Baradar may have been the most high-profile of Afghan Taliban officials in Pakistani custody, but there are surely other steps Pakistan can take to nudge a nascent dialogue process forward.
Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2018
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