KABUL / ISLAMABAD: Afghan officials have held secret talks with the Taliban’s former second in command, who is in detention in Pakistan, in a move which could help rekindle stalled peace talks with the insurgents, according to senior officials from both countries.
Afghan officials have often seen Pakistan as a reluctant partner in attempts to broker talks with the Taliban but its decision to grant access to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar may signal Islamabad’s willingness to play a more active role.
Rangin Spanta, the national security adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and an architect of peace-building efforts, said an Afghan delegation had met Baradar in Pakistan two months ago.
Baradar has been in detention since he was captured in a joint operation by the CIA and Pakistani intelligence agents in Karachi in 2010.
“We have met Mullah Baradar,” Spanta told Reuters in Kabul. “Our delegation has spoken to him to know his view on peace talks.”
Afghan officials have publicly been demanding access to Baradar, the Taliban’s top military commander until he was captured, but Spanta’s revelation shows preliminary contact has already been made.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik also said that Islamabad had granted Afghan officials access to Baradar. “They had access at the required and appropriate level,” Malik told Reuters.
“We are fully cooperating with Afghanistan and whatever they are asking for the peace process, for developing peace in Afghanistan. We are giving every kind of help.”
Who is Mullah Baradar?
Baradar was the main day-to-day commander responsible for leading the Taliban campaign against US and Nato troops, plotting suicide bombings and other attacks.
He was the right-hand man to reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, who gave him the nickname Baradar (brother), providing him with great influence and prestige in Taliban circles.
Afghan officials hope Baradar could play a key role in any negotiations to end the war, acting as a go-between with Taliban leaders including Omar.
Afghan and US officials have publicly acknowledged little success in efforts to re-start peace talks, which the Taliban suspended after accusing US officials of failing to honour confidence-building promises.
That setback refocused attention on nascent efforts by the Afghan government to open its own channels with insurgent intermediaries, despite the fact the Taliban publicly say they will not talk to what they deem an illegitimate “puppet” government.
A Western official said Pakistan’s decision to grant access to Baradar would bolster hopes of greater collaboration between the two countries, but the Afghan government would only be fully satisfied if Baradar was repatriated to Kabul. “It’s a step in the right direction, but there’s still a number of steps to go,” the official said.
Taliban downplay media hype
The Taliban, however, have sought to downplay the media hype over the development.
“A captive cannot represent the Taliban as he is helpless in detention,” a senior member of the Taliban told The Express Tribune.
“We have many prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and Pakistan. They are helpless and have no powers to talk on behalf of the Islamic Emirate,” he told The Express Tribune by phone.
“Mullah Baradar was stripped off all his powers the day he was arrested in Karachi. Our central Shura (council) had immediately appointed Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor in his place,” the Taliban leader said.
“Baradar is just an ordinary Afghan prisoner and those who are calling meeting with him a breakthrough are mistaken,” he said referring to Spanta’s claim.
The Taliban member also said that there was no change in the militia’s policy of not entering into any talks with the Karzai administration or his peace council.
(Reuters with additional reporting by Tahir Khan in Islamabad)
Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2012.