Pakistan to release top Afghan Taliban prisoner


By Munir Ahmed

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan has decided to release the most senior Afghan Taliban prisoner it is holding and could do so as soon as this month to jumpstart the struggling peace process, a senior Pakistani official said.

The Afghan government has long demanded that Pakistan release Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s former deputy leader. He was arrested in a joint raid with the CIA in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi in 2010.

Sartaj Aziz, adviser to the Pakistani prime minister on national security and foreign affairs, said Tuesday that the government has agreed to release Baradar to help the peace process but has not yet set a date.

“He could be released this month or very soon,” said Aziz. “It is part of confidence building measures, and we are hopeful he can play a role.”

Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai welcomed Pakistan’s decision to set Baradar free, saying “we believe his release will help the Afghan peace process.”

But he said Baradar must be “accessible, secure and with a known address” if he remains in Pakistan.

The Afghan government has urged Pakistan in the past to release Taliban prisoners into its custody. But they have instead been set free in Pakistan, and it is expected the same will happen with Baradar.

“He must be accessible for peace talks and in the service of the peace process,” said Mosazai.

The circumstances surrounding Baradar’s arrest in Karachi were murky. Afghan officials said at the time that he was holding secret peace talks with the Afghan government and accused Pakistan of arresting him to sabotage the process or gain control of the talks.

Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar, secretary of the Afghan High Peace Council, which represents the government in peace talks, also welcomed the news of Baradar’s planned release.

“In the past, Abdul Ghani Baradar has been willing to help bring peace to Afghanistan. Because of that, they put him in jail,” said Qasimyar. “I believe it is good for both Afghanistan and Pakistan to build trust, and this release is important.”