Afghan Taliban say Pakistan still holds ex-No 2 in jail

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 09, 2013 1:58 AM
Afghan Taliban say Pakistan still holds ex-No 2 in jail

By Hamid Shalizi

KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan Taliban said on Wednesday Pakistan has not freed their former second-in-command, Mullah Baradar, as promised and that his health is deteriorating in prison.

Baradar is seen by many in Afghanistan as the key to restarting peace talks with the Afghan Taliban.

"Unfortunately he still spends his days and nights in prison, and his health condition in worrying. It is getting worse day by day," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

Pakistan announced that the former commander had been released in mid-September, but since then has provided no further information on his whereabouts.

Reports indicate he has since been moved between safe houses in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, near the Afghan border. The city has seen a surge of militant violence in recent weeks.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said his week Baradar's freedom was still restricted and he called on Pakistan to cooperate by helping them get in touch with the former commander.

"We are trying to find a contact number or his address to talk to him," Karzai told journalists.

"Although I have thanked Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for delivering on his promise, I hope that further steps are taken that will prove fruitful for the peace process."

The Taliban also confirmed suspicion that Pakistan had never really released their former second-in-command, refusing to meet him on the grounds that Baradar was still being minded by security agents.

Proponents of peace in Afghanistan see Baradar as the best chance of ending the Taliban-led insurgency because he once reached out to Kabul to negotiate a settlement.

It remains to be seen whether Baradar, who was captured in Pakistan in 2010, can really still influence the Taliban leadership after spending years in jail.

That said, he was once a close friend of the reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and is still widely respected by field commanders.

Pakistan supported the Taliban in the 1990s when the Islamists emerged from the chaos of years of foreign occupation and war to take over most of Afghanistan.

Now Pakistan wants to limit the influence of its old rival, India, in Afghanistan and is keen to have a say in any peace process to further that aim.

Tentative efforts to get peace talks going with the Taliban over the past year or so have come to nothing.

(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Writing by Jessica Donati; Editing by Nick Macfie and Robert Birsel)