Afghan officials have held secret talks with the Taliban’s former second-in-command, who is in detention in Pakistan, in a move which could help rekindle stalled peace talks with the insurgents, according to senior officials from both countries.
Afghan officials have often seen Pakistan as a reluctant partner in attempts to broker talks with the Taliban, but its decision to grant access to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar may signal Islamabad’s willingness to play a more active role.
Rangin Spanta, the national security adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and an architect of peace-building efforts, said an Afghan delegation had met Mullah Baradar in Pakistan two months ago.
Baradar has been in detention since he was captured in the Pakistani city of Karachi in 2010.
“We have met Mullah Baradar,” Spanta said in Kabul. “Our delegation has spoken to him to know his view on peace talks.”
Afghan officials have publicly been demanding access to Baradar, the Taliban’s top military commander until he was captured in Karachi, but Spanta’s revelation shows preliminary contact has already been made.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik also said that Pakistan had granted Afghan officials access to Baradar.
“They had access at the required and appropriate level,” Malik said. “We are fully cooperating with Afghanistan and whatever they are asking for the peace process, for developing peace in Afghanistan. We are giving every kind of help.”
Pakistan is seen as crucial to stability in Afghanistan as most foreign combat troops look to leave the country in 2014, given its close political and economic ties and because militant sanctuaries straddle the mountainous border.
Afghan officials hope Baradar could play a key role in any negotiations to end the Afghan conflict, acting as a go-between with senior Taliban leaders including the movement’s reclusive one-eyed leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar.
Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed last month to resume regular talks on Afghanistan’s peace process, with the new Pakistani prime minister promising to help arrange meetings between Afghan and Taliban representatives.
Meanwhile, Afghan and NATO forces foiled a series of suicide attacks on Kabul planned for yesterday when they captured five insurgents allegedly linked to militants in Pakistan, officials said.
The group was “finalizing plans for an attack in the capital” and a large cache of explosives, suicide vest parts, weapons and ammunition were seized in the overnight operation, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said.
The “sophisticated suicide attacks” would have targeted the Afghan parliament and the residence of Second Vice President Mohammad Karim Khalili, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency said.
One of the five was a Pakistani national and the group was in possession of Afghan army uniforms and Pakistani identity documents, currency and cellphone numbers, the National Directorate for Security said.
“The evidence indicates they had connections with the terrorists beyond the border with Pakistan,” the agency said.
In other developments, an Afghan police officer killed at least 10 of his fellow officers on Saturday. Shakila Hakimi, a member of the Nimroz provincial council, said the policeman who opened fire on his colleagues is believed to have had ties to militants.