Pakistan on Friday confirmed that it was negotiating with Afghanistan over the release of a key Taliban commander in a move that seeks to give new impetus to peace-making efforts in the war-torn country.
According to Afghan authorities, the arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in 2010 from Karachi dealt a serious blow to efforts aimed at bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Kai Eide, retired UN envoy to Afghanistan, said the arrest of key Taliban in Pakistan had blocked a secret channel of communication between the insurgents and the United Nations.
Baradar, who is the senior most Taliban figure after Mullah Muhammad Omar, was believed to have been holding talks with Afghan authorities at the time of his arrest.
“The issue of prisoners is under discussion between the two countries,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Moazzam Ali Khan at his weekly briefing. However, he would not provide further details or name the Afghan prisoners whose release is currently being negotiated.
When pressed, however, he confirmed that Mullah Baradar was still in Pakistan’s custody.
Kabul has long been demanding the release of Baradar, as it considers him a key player in any meaningful talks with the Taliban.
Top Afghan peace negotiator Salahuddin Rabbani recently said publicly that he would seek the release of Mullah Baradar and other Taliban leaders during his upcoming trip to Pakistan.
The foreign ministry spokesman denied that the visit of Afghan High Peace Council hinges on Islamabad providing access to Mullah Omar’s deputy.
Pakistan’s role is considered crucial for the Afghan-endgame. Many Afghan leaders believe that the Taliban will only come to the negotiating table if Pakistan asks them to, an allegation Islamabad has strongly disputed.
Responding to a question, the spokesman described the recent visit of head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to the US as “productive.”
“There are certain proposals under consideration for a way forward,” he added without providing the specifics.
He also rejected the impression that the recent release of US assistance for the energy sector was meant to persuade the government to abandon the multi-billion dollar Iran gas pipeline project.
“Up to $280 million have been released under the Kerry-Lugar Bill for the upgradation of Mangla Dam and Kurram Tangi Dam, but there is no link between the two,” he insisted.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2012.
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