Pakistan says to free senior Afghan Taliban commander

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 20, 2013 11:33 AM

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan will release former Afghan Taliban second-in-command Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on Saturday, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

The United States and Afghanistan have long pressed Pakistan to free Baradar, a figure they believe could be used to tempt moderate Taliban leaders to the negotiating table and transform the Taliban insurgency into a political movement.

"In order to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process" Baradar will be released on September 21, a Pakistani Foreign Ministry statement said. It did not say where he would be sent, a contentious issue as Afghanistan wants him repatriated.

Pakistani sources said this month he was more likely to be sent straight to a third country such as Saudi Arabia or Turkey as part of the stalled peace process.

Baradar was captured in Pakistan in 2010 and has since emerged as a figure who Afghanistan and Pakistan believe could help to persuade his former comrades to lay down their weapons and engage in peace talks.

His fate is at the heart of Afghanistan's efforts to kick-start the peace process as most NATO combat troops prepare to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and anxiety grows over security.

Baradar was formerly a close friend of the group's reclusive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar who gave him his nom de guerre, "Baradar" or "brother".

(Reporting By Maria Golovnina; Editing by Janet Lawrence)