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 Pakistani city of Karachi in 2010.
Sartaj Aziz, adviser to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on national security and foreign affairs, on Tuesday said 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,” Aziz said. “It is part of confidence-building measures and we are hopeful he can play a role.”
Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Janan Mosazai welcomed Pakistan’s decision to set Baradar free, saying “we believe his release will help the Afghan peace process.”
However, he said Baradar must be “accessible, secure and with a known address” if he stays 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.
Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar, secretary of the Afghan High Peace Council, which represents Kabul in peace talks, also welcomed 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,” Qasimyar said.
Pakistan has strong historical ties to the Taliban since it helped the group seize control of Afghanistan in 1996. Pakistan is widely believed to have maintained these ties and provided the insurgents sanctuary, despite official denials.
Yet there is also significant distrust between the two, and Islamabad has arrested dozens of Taliban militants in the years following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, possibly to hold as bargaining chips.
Pakistan has released at least 33 Taliban prisoners over the past year to jumpstart peace talks between the insurgents and Kabul, but there is no sign that the releases have helped and some of the freed are believed to have returned to the fight against Kabul.