Pakistan releases most senior Taliban chief: official
By Khurram Shahzad, AFPISLAMABAD -- Pakistan released its most senior Afghan Taliban detainee Abdul Ghani Baradar on Saturday, a senior official told AFP, a move welcomed by Kabul which hopes it will encourage peace talks with the insurgents.
September 22, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
Baradar, a one-time military chief often described as the militants' former second-in-command, was the most high profile Taliban commander detained in Pakistan.
“Yes Baradar has been released,” Omar Hamid, a spokesman for Pakistan's interior ministry told AFP, without elaborating on the circumstances of the release.
Later, the foreign ministry also gave a one-line confirmation.
“Mullah Baradar was released this morning,” Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, the spokesman for foreign ministry, told AFP via text message.
He added: “Released in Pakistan. No further details available with me.”
The release was welcomed by Afghanistan's High Peace Council (HPC), the body nominated by President Hamid Karzai to try to talk to the militants, who have waged a bloody insurgency since being ousted from power by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
“We thank the government of Pakistan that showed goodwill and answered positively to the request of Afghanistan government,” Mohammad Esmail Qasimyar, senior member of HPC, told AFP.
“Baradar is someone who has always been eager to join peace negotiations, and we hope he joins peace talks soon. We are optimistic about it, he is still an influential figure, and the Taliban still respect him.”
Pakistan's foreign ministry on Friday said that Baradar's release would facilitate Afghanistan's reconciliation process with the Taliban as a NATO combat mission there winds down.
The Taliban opened an office in Doha in June as a precursor to possible talks but it was quickly shut down after Karzai reacted furiously when they put up a flag and plaque as if they were a government-in-exile.
The Taliban's spokesman in Afghanistan, Zabihullah Mujahid, said they could not yet confirm Baradar had been freed.
“We only heard through the media that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will be released. We have not received any official confirmation about his release,” Mujahid told AFP in Kabul.
Scant Evidence Taliban Releases are Working
Baradar's release brings to 34 the number of Taliban detainees that Pakistan has freed since last year, in what Afghan officials hope will encourage peace talks with the insurgents.
Karzai had asked Pakistan to help open direct dialogue between his government and the Taliban, who consider Karzai an “American puppet” and have refused to hold discussions with his government.