ISLAMABAD - In a major trust building measure, Pakistan Saturday set free former Taliban second-in-command Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar to help facilitate reconciliation process in Afghanistan with the hope his release makes tangible contribution to the peace in the whole region.
Despite all the secrecy about his mystified release and whereabouts, well-placed government sources claimed that Taliban leader has been released but they declined to share details. “He was released early Saturday,” a senior official of the interior ministry said. This was also confirmed by foreign ministry.
Baradar’s release brings to 34 the number of Taliban detainees that Pakistan has freed for the last year. The Afghan government, which had been demanding his release, welcomed Foreign Office’s announcement in this regard on Saturday.
However, despite frequent attempts there has been no input from the Afghanistan Embassy that is waiting for the new ambassador to take charge, as Ambassador Muhammad Ummer Daudzai has completed his term.
Mullah Baradar was the right-hand man of Taliban supreme commander Mullah Omar and the most senior member of the Taliban held after US-led troops invaded Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept 11 attacks, bringing down the radical religious regime.
Born in 1968 in the southern province of Uruzgan, he fought the occupying Soviet forces in the late 1980s before becoming one of the founding members of the Taliban movement. After his arrest in Karachi in January 2010, his influence has waned over time but he is still widely revered by various groups of Afghan Taliban.
Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs and National Security, Sartaj Aziz, recently said that Baradar would not be handed over to Afghanistan after his release. Sources in the ministries of interior and foreign affairs remained tight lipped about the future of Mullah Baradar.
Speculations were rife in Islamabad that Taliban leader would soon travel to Qatar or Turkey to open his office there for peace negotiations with Afghan government and the international players. Yet, some sources told The Nation that Baradar would soon reunite with his family in Karachi and may unveil his future plans after some time.
They believed he might seek crucial interactions with Afghan authorities as well as members of the Afghan High Peace Council while staying in Pakistan or he would shift to one of the Gulf Arab countries to use third country in the interest of independence to engaging with Afghan authorities.
They argued that since Afghan government has offered to engage Baradar in talks even in Pakistan upon his release, there was greater likelihood that he might stay in Pakistan with the understating of Kabul and Islamabad to revive the reconciliation process that remains suspended after Qatar debacle. Few others suggested that in case Pakistan declines to host Mullah Baradar, he might shift to Qatar.
Afghan Taliban opened an office in Doha in June last as a precursor to possible talks but it was quickly shut down after Karzai reacted furiously when they put up a flag and plaque as if they were a government-in-exile.
“It is now between the Afghan Taliban and Afghan government as well as Afghan High Peace Council to set direction of the peace process,” a former Pakistani ambassador remarked while requesting not to be named.
Observers appeared divided over the significance of the release of Mullah Baradar with some arguing that his release was a mere confidence building measure between Islamabad and Kabul that might not help much Afghan reconciliation process yet some others believed his release is meaningful development that would restart the halted peace process.