ISLAMABAD — Afghanistan has stepped up demands that Pakistan explain the whereabouts of a former deputy leader of the Taliban who was reported freed recently to encourage Afghan peace and reconciliation efforts. The Kabul government said President Hamid Karzai will raise the issue when he meets Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in London later this week.
Former Taliban second-in-command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was allowed to walk out of Pakistan’s custody more than a month ago, with authorities in Islamabad saying the move was aimed at furthering political reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan.
But the Kabul government has been critical and skeptical about the move from the very beginning, and said the insurgent leader remains under the strict supervision of Pakistan's spy agency.
Calls to free Baradar
Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai, speaking at a weekly briefing in Kabul Sunday, urged Pakistan to facilitate direct talks between Afghan peace negotiators and Mullah Baradar.
He called on Pakistani authorities to ensure that the Taliban leader “should be free, accessible and should be in the service of the peace process Afghan people and the state have undertaken.”
A High Peace Council of prominent Afghan personalities and politicians has been making unsuccessful efforts to engage in peace talks with insurgent leaders to end decades of bloodshed in the country. Baradar was said to be reaching out to Kabul with a peace initiative in 2010, and was detained while traveling through Pakistan for a secret meeting. Skeptics say his prolonged absence from Afghanistan may have undermined his reputation among Taliban fighters.
But Foreign Ministry spokesman Mosazai said Baradar can still inject life into Afghan peace attempts seen crucial for a smooth pullout of most of U.S.-led foreign forces from Afghanistan by the end of next year.
He said that the Afghan government believes Mullah Baradar can play an important role in the peace process provided he is completely free, and has a certain address where members of the High Peace Council can engage him in peace talks.
Leadership to discuss Baradar's potential role
The spokesman added that President Karzai will raise the release of the Taliban leader and the role Baradar can play in peace efforts when the Afghan leader meets Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in London this week. British Prime Minister David Cameron is hosting the two men as part of British efforts to improve ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Afghan Taliban recently claimed that Mullah Baradar effectively remains under arrest in Pakistan and his health has deteriorated.
Pakistani officials dismiss those claims and insist that the former deputy Taliban commander is a free man.
Pakistani adviser on foreign affairs and national security, Sartaj Aziz, told VOA that Pakistan is doing all it can to support efforts to bring peace and stability in Afghanistan because a volatile post-2014 situation there will be a matter of grave concern for his country.
"God forbid if [Afghan] reconciliation does not take place and large scale fighting takes place then we will have a dual problem. A lot of volunteers will start going from here to participate, on the other hand a lot of refugees will start pouring into Pakistan. So the instability will definitely spill into Pakistan,” Aziz said.
Pakistan is fighting its own war against domestic Taliban insurgents, an off-shoot of the Afghan insurgency. The militants have responded by carrying out deadly suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks that have killed thousands of Pakistanis in recent years.
Prime Minister Sharif’s newly-elected government is trying to engage the Pakistani Taliban in peace talks to end the militancy. But critics are highly skeptical about the success of the policy, citing militants' refusal to accept Pakistan's constitution and determination to seek implementation of their brand of Islamic system in the country.