The Afghan Taliban confirms that Pakistan has released the co-founder of the insurgent group — a move seen as a gesture aimed at bringing the Taliban, the Afghan government and the United States to the negotiating table.
Pakistan detained Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in 2010 in the sprawling port city of Karachi. Local media report the sting was arranged by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, known as the ISI, alongside the CIA.
Baradar was was the deputy of Mullah Omar, the founder of the Taliban, whose death was confirmed in October 2016.
When Baradar was arrested, he was seen as the second most senior member of the Taliban, and an operational mastermind for the insurgents, according to an essay written by senior analyst Kate Clark for the Afghan Analysts Network in 2013. Clark described him as “a highly experienced military commander and keen political strategist.”
In 2013, it was widely reported that Baradar had been released; however, those reports later proved false.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, confirmed to NPR that Baradar is now free. However, he would not say exactly when Baradar was released, or if he had returned to Afghanistan.
Freeing Baradar was long viewed as a goodwill gesture with the potential to the bring the Taliban to the table. The Associated Press cited two unnamed Pakistani security officials as saying that Baradar was freed after “high-level negotiations.”
There was no immediate comment from the office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Pakistani officials declined to comment on the news.
Local Afghan and Pakistani media reported that Washington’s special envoy on Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, lobbied for Baradar’s release.
More than eight years after his arrest, it was not immediately clear if Baradar still enjoys influence within the Taliban leadership or whether the release presages his involvement in future talks.
Over the past few months, Taliban officials have been speaking to U.S. diplomats in the Gulf State of Qatar, where the insurgents have a political office. That follows Washington’s resurgent efforts to negotiate with the Taliban to an end the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan.
Khalilzad’s appointment last month was seen as a sign of the serious intent of the Trump administration.