Pakistan releases top Taliban commander ‘at US request’
Islamabad :Pakistan has released Mullah Baradar, a senior Taliban commander, as a “confidence-building” measure requested by the US, which is engaged in so-called peace talks with the insurgents.
Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former right-hand man of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, had been held in Pakistani detention for over eight years, sources said.
The move is said to be aimed at aiding the so-called peace talks between the US and the militant group, after the two sides agreed in Doha, Qatar to continue the secretive negotiations.
Less than two weeks ago, US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with Taliban representatives in Qatar to discuss a “peace” deal.
“Baradar was freed yesterday afternoon and he joined his family,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP in a WhatsApp message.
A Pakistani intelligence official also noted that Baradar was “released a couple of days ago”.
Baradar was the most high-profile Taliban leader detained by Pakistan since the 9/11 attacks in 2001. He was arrested in the southern port city of Karachi in 2010, reportedly in an operation that was described as a huge blow to the militant group.
Apart from Baradar, several other senior Taliban leaders were freed this week following direct talks with Khalilzad on October 12, a senior Taliban official told AFP, adding that they believe the releases were made at US request.
According to the official, Baradar will likely stay in Pakistan and shuttle between the group’s Doha office, Kabul and Islamabad.
The Taliban announced on October 13 that they would continue talks with the US, even though no tangible agreement was reached in the first round of meeting in Doha.
Washington’s repeated outreach to the Taliban contradicts its efforts to link other countries, including Iran and Russia, to the militant group.
Early this week, the US Treasury Department blacklisted nine men, including two Iranian military officers, over allegations that they were “linked with the Taliban”.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin claimed that the Iranians were providing financial and material support to the Taliban.
Washington has a long history of liaison with the Taliban, starting with the militant group’s years of war with the Soviets over their occupation of Afghanistan.
Following the Soviet withdrawal, the US saw the group as a counterbalance to Iran’s Islamic Republic and maintained its links with the Taliban.
The Taliban government, however, was toppled during the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 because the group refused to expel the al-Qaeda which Washington blames for the 9/11 attacks.
Senior US politicians have said the CIA also created al-Qaeda with the help of British, Pakistani and Saudi intelligence agencies to counter Iran.