In a significant development that may help break the impasse in the Afghan reconciliation process, Pakistan is set to free a former top aide of the elusive Taliban spiritual leader, Mullah Omar, today (Saturday).
“In order to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process, the detained Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, will be released on September 21,” reads a terse statement issued by the foreign ministry on Friday. It did not, however, provide any details.
Last week, Prime Minister’s Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz disclosed that Pakistan had in principle decided to free Mullah Baradar. He said, however, the former Taliban chief strategist would not be handed over to Afghan authorities and instead would be released straight into Pakistan.
Ahead of the important announcement, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met with army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Inter-Services Intelligence Director General Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam. An official familiar with the developments told The Express Tribune that the decision to release Mullah Baradar was approved in the high-level huddle.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said that Mullah Baradar’s release was meant to send a clear message to a sceptical West and Karzai administration that Pakistan was sincere in facilitating an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.
“Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will highlight Pakistan’s contribution for peace and stability in Afghanistan during his address to the UN General Assembly later this month,” he added.
In Kabul, the Afghan government welcomed the announcement, saying Mullah Baradar’s release 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 said on Friday. “We believe this will help the Afghan peace process.
“This is something we have been asking 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 Islamabad 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.
The Afghan High Peace Council also welcomed the decision to release the former Taliban second-in-command.
“We welcome and respect the Pakistan government’s decision to give a positive response to the Afghan government and the High Peace Council,” the council’s spokesman Shehzada Shehzad told The Express Tribune from Kabul via telephone. “We are thankful to Pakistan for honouring its promise to release Mullah Baradar.”
Pakistan has so far freed 33 Taliban detainees, but Mullah Baradar would be the most senior figure to be released.
Mullah Baradar is one of the four men who founded the Taliban movement, and was the day-to-day commander responsible for leading the Taliban campaign against the foreign troops until his capture in 2010 in Karachi by a joint team of CIA and Pakistani intelligence officials.
Sources said Mullah Baradar is likely to play a central role in future negotiations with the US as well as the Karzai administration. But there is also scepticism regarding whether he still enjoys the trust and confidence of the Taliban top leadership.
Senior Afghan High Peace Council member Habibullah Fauzi said Mullah Baradar’s release could encourage the Taliban to join the peace process. “He cannot do anything [however] if he parts ways with Mullah Omar,” he added.
However, Afghan Taliban leaders who have worked with Mullah Baradar prior to, during and after the collapse of the Taliban regime said that he had been loyal to Mullah Omar.
“Mullah Baradar’s popularity will diminish and respect for him would have turned into hate if he changed his loyalty,” a senior Taliban leader, among the founding members of the movement, told The Express Tribune.
The news of Mullah Baradar’s possible release was first broken by The Express Tribune on September 9, 2013.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 21st, 2013.
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