Pakistan releases former Taliban second-in-command

Pakistan releases former Taliban second-in-command

Pakistan released former Taliban second-in-command Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on Sept. 21, a man Afghanistan hopes could play a crucial role in tempting moderate Taliban leaders to the negotiating table and bringing peace after years of fighting.

The United States and Afghanistan have long pressed Pakistan to free Baradar, a figure they believe could tempt moderate Taliban leaders to come to the negotiating table as U.S.-led troops prepare to leave Afghanistan at the end of next year. 

Pakistan's foreign ministry announced late on Sept. 20 he would be released a day later, and on Saturday, Pakistani television confirmed Baradar had been set free. There was no official confirmation. 

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

Baradar was once a close friend of the reclusive Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, who gave him his nom de guerre, "Baradar" or "brother". Even before his detention, Baradar was known as a pragmatic and level-headed operator who had once reached out to Kabul to seek a peace settlement, according to Afghan officials. 

But critics say his years in Pakistani detention may have eroded his sway over the fast evolving insurgency, and there are doubts over whether Mullah Omar would agree to talk to his former protg in the first place.

It is also not clear where he would travel following his release. Sources in Pakistan have said he could be sent to Turkey or Saudi Arabia to help kick start peace talks with Taliban officials after the breakdown of the Doha round of talks.