KARACHI - Pakistan is set to release this week Abdul Ghani Baradar, a former military chief often described as the insurgents’ ex-second in command.
Sartaj Aziz, main adviser to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on national security and foreign affairs, told AFP on Monday that Baradar “will be released this week, possibly in a day or two”.
The Afghan government has long demanded that Islamabad free Baradar, whose arrest in January 2010 saw Pakistan accused of sabotaging initiatives to bring peace in war-torn Afghanistan.
His release would bring to 34 the number of Taliban detainees that Pakistan has released since last year, in what Afghan officials hope will encourage peace talks with the insurgents.
However Aziz, a senior diplomat, said Baradar would not be handed over to Kabul.
“It is at his (Baradar’s) discretion, whether he chooses to live here or anywhere of his own choice,” Aziz said.
“Handing him over to Kabul would affect the reconciliation process with the Taliban,” he added.
Aziz did not say if Baradar had expressed where he would want to go. “We have to follow the Taliban’s desires and we would carry out (his release) in accordance with what they want,” he said.
Aziz had announced last week that Pakistan would set Baradar free this month.
He spoke a few weeks after Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Pakistan for talks with new Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Karzai asked Pakistan to help open direct dialogue between his government and the Taliban, who consider the Afghan president an “American puppet” and have refused to hold discussions with his government.
There has been little evidence that the releases have had a positive effect on the stalled peace negotiations, however, and several prisoners are understood to have returned to the battlefield.
Baradar’s influence has also been debated after his years away from the fight.
Born in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan, Baradar fought in the war - covertly backed by the United States and Pakistan - to expel Soviet troops from Afghanistan in the 1980s. When the Taliban rose to power in 1996, Baradar’s friendship with supreme leader Mullah Omar made him deputy defence minister.
After the Taliban government was toppled by the US-led invasion in 2001, hundreds of Taliban hardliners are believed to have fled over the border to Pakistan.
Baradar was arrested in Karachi, reportedly in a secret raid by CIA and Pakistani agents, an operation that was described as a huge blow to the group.
At the time, Baradar was reported to have been Taliban’s second-in-command.
US STILL HOPES FOR TALIBAN TALKS: ENVOY
A US envoy said Monday that Washington still hoped to talk directly with the Taliban to support an Afghan peace deal but that the militants seemed unwilling to do so.
The Taliban opened an office in the Qatari capital Doha in June aimed at talking to the United States ahead of next year’s withdrawal of most American troops, but diplomacy collapsed before it even began. “We would still like to see that dialogue initiated, a dialogue that would involve the US and Taliban directly but would also involve the Afghan government or its High Peace Council,” said James Dobbins, the US special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“We’re not giving up hope. We continue to hope that there will be a positive development at some point, but we can’t predict when,” Dobbins, who was expected to lead the US side at talks, told reporters in Washington.
“The Taliban are now, as a practical matter, unwilling to engage with the United States, with the Afghans, with anybody,” he said.
The Taliban office in Doha styled itself as an embassy of a government-in-exile from the Islamists’ 1996-2001 reign, angering Afghan President Hamid Karzai who briefly pulled out of separate talks with the United States on a post-2014 security agreement.
In turn, the Taliban refused to talk to Karzai, calling him a US puppet, even though the United States had hoped for the Afghan government to play the main role in talks with the Taliban.
Dobbins blamed a “genuine misunderstanding” over the role of the office.
President Barack Obama has promised the war-weary US public to pull combat troops out of Afghanistan next year, ending the longest US war that was launched after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
The United States has set a goal of concluding the security agreement with the Afghan government next month.
SACRIFICES TO STRENGTHEN RESOLVE AGAINST TERRORISM: Aziz
Staff Reporter from Islamabad adds: Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, in a message addressed to the Chief of Army Staff, expressed on his behalf and on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs his deep and sincere condolences on the tragic incident in Upper Dir on September 15 in which Major General Sanaullah Khan Niazi, Lt Col Tausif, and Lance Naik Irfan Sattar were martyred.
The adviser expressed his conviction that the supreme sacrifices being made by Pakistan Army and law enforcement authorities will further strengthen the resolve of the nation to defeat the menace of extremism and terrorism.
The adviser also expressed his condolences to the bereaved families.