ISLAMABAD— Pakistan has freed Afghan Taliban deputy commander Abdul Ghani Baradar in a attempt to jumpstart a tumultuous peace process in neighboring Afghanistan as most NATO troops prepare to leave the war-torn country by the end of 2014.
Pakistani authorities said on Saturday that Baradar was a free man, but they refused to discuss details.
A secret Pakistani raid on Baradar's hideout in Karachi three years ago led to the capture and detention of the deputy leader of the Afghan Taliban.
Baradar had been among dozens of Taliban insurgents in Pakistan’s custody. Officials have so far cited no legal reasons for their detention and no charges have been filed against any of them.
The Afghan government and the United States both have long urged Islamabad to release the men and send them back to their homeland, hoping they can bring insurgent leaders to the negotiating table to help end the protracted conflict in Afghanistan.
Mushahid Hussain is an influential Pakistani Senator and heads the foreign affairs committee of the upper house of parliament.
“The peace process has to include the Taliban. So, Mullah Baradar is one of the very high-profile figures who has been close to the top leadership of the Taliban. So, I think Mullah Baradar can be a good facilitator in the peace process,” said Hussain.
Pakistan set free 26 Taliban prisoners late last year but Afghan authorities were unhappy about the move. They insisted that Islamabad did not take Kabul into its confidence and the whereabouts of those released remains unknown, raising questions about the effectiveness of the Pakistani move.
Since the official visit of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to Islamabad late last month, Pakistan has released eight more Taliban insurgents together with Baradar, after sharing details in advance with Afghan authorities.
Foreign ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry however dismisses Afghan criticism that Pakistan's earlier release of Taliban leaders did not help peace efforts.
“Our assessment is that the elements who participate in the reconciliation process will ultimately contribute to the peace process. You cannot measure in every case like this, but the objective is very clear that we are releasing only for one purpose which is to advance the reconciliation process,” he said.
Baradar was a founder of the Taliban insurgency and a close associate of its reclusive chief Mullah Mohammad Omar. He was posted at key military and political posts when the Taliban was in control of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
But there is widespread skepticism on both sides of the border about whether Baradar still enjoys the same clout after having stayed away for so long from the Taliban insurgency while in detention in Pakistan.
It is widely believed that Pakistan's spy agency, the ISI, assisted the Taliban to rise to power in Afghanistan and Pakistan was one of three countries that recognized the Islamist movement’s government until the U.S.-led military invasion overthrew the Taliban from power for sheltering the al-Qaida network.
In Kabul, presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi told reporters the Afghan government welcomed Pakistan’s decision to release Baradar and hoped the Taliban leader decided to return to Afghanistan. He claimed that constant pressure from the Afghan government eventually led to Baradar’s release.