ISLAMABAD - Pakistan on Friday announced that the detained top Taliban Commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar would be set free on Saturday but due to security considerations did not indicate the time or location of his release.
"In order to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process, the detained Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, would be released tomorrow (21 September, 2012)," Pakistan Foreign Office announced in probably the shortest-ever, most understated, single sentence press release Friday night.
Notably, announcement of the much-awaited and speculated release of Baradar comes just ahead of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's visit to the US for the UN General Assembly session in New York. Perhaps this was what the Foreign Office spokesperson had in mind when to repeated queries about time of Baradar's release he would respond by saying: "at an appropriate time."
The Afghan peace and reconciliation process will be a key point of discussion at the UNGA session and release of key Taliban leader will go down well as a concrete step by Pakistan to advance peace in the neighbouring Afghanistan.
For now, Baradar will not be able to travel outside Pakistan. Under the UN Taliban Sanctions Regime there is ban on international travel of Taliban leaders. A country holding Taliban in custody cannot allow them to travel abroad on release without formal permission from the relevant UN Security Council Committee. And, Pakistan has no intentions at this stage to initiate such a process or approach the UN committee in this regard. This was confirmed by the Foreign Office spokesperson when asked by The Nation, clearly indicating that Baradar will remain in Pakistan, at least for the time being.
While talking to this Correspondent on Thursday, PM's adviser on national security and foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, had also mentioned that Baradar cannot travel outside Pakistan because of the ban imposed by the UN Committee. He said on release, the Afghan leader would contact his family and touch base with the Taliban leadership in the context of talks with Afghan High Peace Council to facilitate the challenging reconciliation process.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Taliban military commander and head of Taliban Quetta Shura, was arrested from an undisclosed location in Karachi in 2010 in a joint military operation with the CIA. He was second-in-command of the Taliban when the US-led invasion toppled their regime in September 2001. Baradar, 45, is said to be a close aide and the most trusted commanders of Mullah Omar, the so-called spiritual head of the Taliban. He was among the four men who founded the Taliban movement in 1994.
Baradar's release has been a long-standing demand of the Afghan government and the Afghan High Peace Council as they believe that he would prove to be useful in the reconciliation process and may hold the key to bringing Taliban to the negotiating table.
The decision to release Mullah Baradar and seven other Taliban detainees was in principle taken during Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit to Islamabad on August 26. Release of Baradar and other Taliban prisoners was high on the agenda of Karzai's bilateral visit that was extended by a day to discuss the next steps on the reconciliation and peace process in Afghanistan including release of key Taliban leaders. Just 10 days after Karzai's visit Pakistan released seven Taliban leaders. Karzai's extended stay, very rare in Heads of State visits, was an indication that greater trust and confidence had prompted it.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif aided by his civilian and military teams repeatedly assured the Afghan President and head of Afghan High Peace Council, Salahuddin Rabbani, that Pakistan does not have any favourites. That Pakistan's role in the Afghan peace process will only be as much as the Afghans would want from Pakistan.
During his visit here President Karzai had reiterated Kabul's request to Islamabad to use its influence and contacts with the Taliban representatives to convince them to come to the negotiating table with the Afghan High Peace Council. Kabul had repeatedly underlined that Pakistan's facilitation and cooperation in this context were vital.
Pakistan released the first group of 26 Taliban prisoners late last year in response to the demand of the Afghan High Peace Council.
On the question of handing the prisoners over to Kabul, Islamabad had clearly conveyed to the Afghan president that it would politically undermine the credibility of those released. However, Karzai was told that those Taliban prisoners whose release is sought by the Taliban themselves will be released to the Taliban. Apparently Karzai had suggested that Islamabad host Kabul's talks with Baradar but he was politely told that there would be difficulties on the issue of arranging these talks.
AFP adds: The Afghan government on Friday welcomed Pakistan's announcement about Baradar’s realease. "We welcome that this step is being taken," Aimal Faizi, spokesman for Afghan president Hamid Karzai said.