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Pakistan frees Afghan Taliban ex-deputy

Published September 21, 2013 6:36 pm

Diplomacy • Pakistan hopes to strike a peace deal before U.S. troops exit Afghanistan.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Islamabad • Pakistan freed the Afghan Taliban's former deputy leader Saturday after years of detention in a move that many officials in both nations hope will aid Afghanistan's struggling peace process.

But others doubt Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will do much good, and the U.S., which opposed his release, is worried he could return to the battlefield. That could give the Taliban in Afghanistan a boost while the U.S. pulls out troops and increasingly relies on Afghan forces to fight insurgents.

Pakistan has demanded that Afghanistan free Baradar since he was arrested in a joint raid in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi in 2010 after holding secret peace talks with the Afghan government. Pakistan resisted for years, exacerbating already-tense relations with neighboring Afghanistan.

Pakistan's change of heart came amid a renewed push to help strike a peace deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government before the U.S. withdraws most of its combat troops by 2014. Pakistan worries that further instability in Afghanistan could make it more difficult to fight Islamic militants at home.

Baradar was freed Saturday morning, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said.

Baradar will remain in Pakistan after his release and will have tight security, Pakistani intelligence and security officials said. He will be free to meet with anyone he chooses, they said. Presumably that could include talks with Taliban commanders and Afghan officials to aid the peace effort.

Baradar, who is about 50, was one of the founding members of the Taliban along with the group's leader Mullah Omar. He served as a senior military leader and deputy defense minister after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in 1996.

Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, who served as foreign minister when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, also hailed Bardar's release and cautioned Pakistan not to try to control his movements now that he is free.

"They also have to allow him contact with Taliban leaders and for him to be useful for peace in Afghanistan," Muttawakil said.