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Pakistan Frees Key Afghan Taliban Leader


An artificial flower is seen on a turban of a peace marcher as he arrives in Kabul, Afghanistan June 18, 2018. The release of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, co-founder of the Taliban, by Pakistan could be part of efforts to advance a peace dialogue the U.S. has initiated with Qatar-based Taliban representatives.

Pakistan has freed Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, co-founder of the Taliban and former second-in-command of the Taliban insurgency that is fighting the U.S.-backed government in neighboring Afghanistan.

The senior Afghan insurgent leader, popularly known as Mullah Baradar, was captured in 2010 in a joint raid by Pakistani and American security operatives against his hideout in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. He was second-in-command at the time of his arrest.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid Wednesday confirmed to VOA that “Mullah Baradar is now a free man and has joined his family.” He did not elaborate further, nor did he say exactly when the release took place. ​

Qatar may have helped

Pakistani officials were not available to comment on the insurgent’s claims. The Gulf state of Qatar, where the Taliban maintains its so-called “political office,” is said to have played a role in securing freedom for Baradar.

His release came just days after a high-level Qatari delegation, led by the country’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Abdul Rahman al-Thani, visited Islamabad Friday and held meetings with the Pakistani leadership.

After the visit, official Pakistani statements did not mention anything about Baradar but focused on bilateral political and economic cooperation.

Respected Taliban leader

Baradar hails from southern Afghanistan. He had been under United Nations financial and travel sanctions since February 2001.

Despite spending eight years in captivity in neighboring Pakistan, Baradar is still “highly respected” among the Afghan Taliban, insurgent officials say.

Baradar’s freedom, analysts say, could be part of efforts to advance a nascent peace dialogue the U.S. has recently initiated with Qatar-based Taliban political representatives.

The latest round of such talks took place earlier this month, where the newly appointed U.S. envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, led the American delegation.

Pakistan has pledged to make all possible efforts and use “whatever influence” it has on the Taliban to encourage them to end violence and seek a negotiating settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan.

In a statement Tuesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan appeared upbeat about the U.S.-Taliban peace talks, saying they would hopefully lead to Afghan peace and stability.