US requested release of Taliban founder to help peace talks

The move came after at least two meetings between the US and the militant group in recent months

Senior Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is seen in a still from undated video footage. 
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A notorious Taliban leader and co-founder of the Taliban insurgent group Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was released on the special request of US representative Zalmay Khalilzad, a top Pakistani official said.

Mr Khalilzad, who held several meetings this month with all the stakeholders to resolve the long Afghan conflict. A major breakthrough of his visit came when the Taliban agreed to hold further talks with America.

"The release of Mullah Baradar was made on the request of Zalmay Khalilzad, who is more serious [about] resolving the Afghan conflict at [the] earliest, he needs concrete results as Washington desperately seeking result oriented negotiations", a senior Pakistani intelligence official told The National on the condition of anonymity.

“The improving realisation between Islamabad and Washington is to keep all the options open for achieving peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan wants peace no matter what possible channels are subscribed and ultimately it’s in the interest of Pakistan”, the official added.

"We are not going to get into the details of private diplomatic communications. Special Representative Khalilzad continues to have ongoing conversations with all interested parties", a State Department official told The National on condition of anonymity.

After Khalilzad met with Taliban at their political office on October 12, both decided to make a request to Pakistan for the release of Mullah Baradar. A week later on October 19, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan held meeting with Qatar's foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani and both decided to release the Taliban co-founder.

On Sunday, the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul formally said Baradar has been released.

Mr Khan, who has been a vocal supporter of peace talks with the Taliban, sees the negotiations as the only viable solution for ending the war in Afghanistan. Mr Khan had stated in the past several times that war is not the solution in Afghanistan.


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A Taliban official in Doha said, “Baradar’s release would help enhance the American peace process in and it’s a positive sign”.

Mullah Baradar remained one of the most contactable among the senior Taliban leadership and had good knowledge of Afghanistan with a great understanding of the US affairs in the country. He also remained open to negotiations with the government in Kabul.

At the time of arrest in 2010 Baradar was seeking peace talks with Washington without Islamabad's consent, a former Pakistani intelligence official claimed. "He was arrested because he neglected Islamabad in the deal during that time", a former senior Pakistani intelligence official, who was in a key position at the time of his arrest told The National on condition of anonymity.

The US, along with other Western countries, say that Islamabad has major clout over Taliban leadership and its splinter groups like Haqqani Network. In January, President Trump in a new year Tweet attacked Islamabad's "lies and deceit" over covert support for the Taliban.

"Baradar's release was clearly intended to kick-start efforts to launch a peace process with the Taliban", Michael Kugelman, a senior associate for South and South-East Asia at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, told The National. "[He's] a prominent Taliban figure that can make things happen and convince the organisation to stop fighting, but the importance of this move shouldn't be overstated. It's unclear how much influence Baradar still has within the Taliban organisation given that he's been in prison for nearly a decade and the Taliban has undergone numerous leadership changes since then."

But Mr Kugelman said the release was a “notable gesture, but not necessarily a move that will drive the insurgents to the peace table”.