Kabul hopes former Taliban second-in-command Abdul Ghani Baradar could broker peace government peace deal with rebels
Jon Boone in Islamabad
- theguardian.com, Tuesday 10 September 2013 10.53 EDT
A senior Taliban commander who the Afghan government believes could be key to brokering a political settlement in Afghanistan will be released later this month, Pakistan‘s most senior foreign affairs official has announced.
Islamabad has long-resisted demands by the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, to free Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s former second-in-command, who it is hoped could initiate a peace process between Kabul and hardline rebels who once ruled the country.
Sartaj Aziz, the prime minister’s foreign affairs adviser, said Pakistan had finally agreed to hand him over after an apparent improvement in the tempestuous relationship between the two countries.
“In principle, we have agreed to release him. The timing is being discussed. It should be very soon … I think within this month,” Sartaj Aziz, the foreign affairs adviser to the Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, told Reuters on Tuesday.
Baradar was once second only to Taliban chief Mullah Omar. He has long been thought to represent a group of pragmatists within the movement who are keen to bring an increasingly bloody insurgency to a negotiated end.
A fellow member of Karzai’s Popolzai tribe, Afghan officials say he had been in contact with the Kabul government at the time of his arrest near Karachi in 2010.
His capture was hailed initially by the international community as a rare example of Pakistan pursuing Afghan insurgent leaders. Pakistan has long been accused of covertly supporting the Taliban.
But Afghan and foreign governments later concluded that Baradar was arrested because he had been holding talks with the Karzai government without the blessing of Pakistan’s military intelligence service, which is accused of keeping the insurgents on a tight leash.
The announcement marks what appears to be a dramatic improvement in relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which one western diplomat has described as a “rollercoaster” of highs and lows.
In February the two sides convened at Chequers for a trilateral summit hosted by the British prime minister, David Cameron. However, the relationship soured immediately after the conference and has been on the rocks for months.
A new government in Islamabad under Nawaz Sharif appears to have improved relations, with the prime minister hosting Karzai and most of his cabinet for two days of talks in Islamabad in August.
Last week Pakistan announced it was freeing seven Afghan Taliban prisoners. Unlike previous releases, where large numbers of unnamed fighters of questionable importance were let loose, Islamabad identified all of the men.
Nonetheless the Afghan government remains deeply suspicious of Pakistan, with one official in Kabul claiming Pakistan had been guilty of delaying tactics.
“We have seen a lot of good promises on countless occasions, but very little action,” the official said.
He said Kabul wanted all Afghan prisoners to be released, ideally in Afghanistan or a third Muslim country, so they can return to their families and civilian life and “play a supportive role in the peace process”.
But Aziz said Baradar would be released inside Pakistan.