PESHAWAR: Though the government announced on Saturday that former Afghan Taliban deputy leader Mulla Abdul Ghani Baradar has been released in the morning, Taliban sources said he had not yet reached his home or contacted his colleagues in the Taliban movement.
There was speculation that he was freed in Karachi, where he was captured in February 2010 in a joint CIA-ISI operation. Mulla Baradar, who is in his late 50s and is from the Popalzai Durrani tribe to which President Hamid Karzai belongs, is the highest ranking Taliban leader to be freed by the Pakistan government to-date. Late last year, the government released 25 Taliban leaders and this year in early September the release of another seven was announced.
In the past also, freed Afghan Taliban leaders took time to reach their homes in Pakistan. Some weren’t released on time despite announcements by the government. Others were advised to remain quiet and stay away from their Taliban colleagues for some time.
A case in point is Mansoor Dadullah, whose release along with six other Afghan Taliban prisoners was announced by the Pakistan government on September 7. Except for him, the other six Taliban prisoners have reached their homes and most are seeking medical treatment. Mansoor Dadullah’s family members told The News on Saturday that he hasn’t been freed yet and they were unaware of the reasons for the delay in releasing him. They said the Pakistani authorities had asked them to send someone to Islamabad to take him home after his release, but he wasn’t freed at the time.
Mansoor Dadullah is the younger brother of the late Taliban commander Mulla Dadullah, who was killed in a Nato-led raid in Helmand province in 2007. Mulla Dadullah had earned respect of the Taliban rank and file for leading them to victory in a battle in many provinces and for escaping from Kunduz in northern Afghanistan in 2001 when thousands of Taliban fighters surrendered to Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rasheed Dostum.
Mansoor Dadullah had succeeded his brother Mulla Dadullah and quickly risen in the ranks before being sacked by Taliban supreme leader Mulla Mohammad Omar for violating discipline. He was captured by the security forces in an injured condition in 2008 following a shootout at his home in Balochistan’s Zhob district. Mansoor Dadullah’s cousin was killed in the incident and two of his men were wounded.
If Mansoor Dadullah is eventually freed, it would be the second time that he would walk out from a detention centre as a free man in unusual circumstances. In May 2007, he was one of the five Taliban prisoners freed by the Afghan government in exchange for the kidnapped Italian journalist, Daniele Mastrogiacomo. This time he would win his freedom due to the positive response of the Pakistan government to the persistent demand of the Afghan government that Islamabad should release Taliban leaders who could play a role in the peace process in Afghanistan.
AFP adds: Pakistan released its most senior Afghan Taliban detainee Mulla Abdul Ghani Baradar, a senior official said, a move welcomed by Kabul which hopes it will encourage peace talks with the insurgents.
“Yes, Baradar has been released,” Omar Hamid, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said, without elaborating on the circumstances of the release.
Later, the Foreign Ministry also gave a one-line confirmation.
“Mulla Baradar was released this morning (Saturday),” Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, the spokesman for Foreign Office, said.
He added: “Released in Pakistan. No further details available with me.”
The release was welcomed by Afghanistan’s High Peace Council (HPC), the body nominated by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to try to talk to the militants.
“We thank the government of Pakistan that showed goodwill and answered positively to the request of Afghanistan government,” Mohammad Esmail Qasimyar, senior member of HPC, told AFP.
“Baradar is someone who has always been eager to join peace negotiations, and we hope he joins peace talks soon. We are optimistic about it, he is still an influential figure, and the Taliban still respect him.”
The Foreign Ministry on Friday said that Baradar’s release would facilitate Afghanistan’s reconciliation process with the Taliban as a Nato combat mission there winds down.
The Taliban’s spokesman in Afghanistan, Zabihullah Mujahid, said they could not yet confirm Baradar had been freed.
“We only heard through the media that Mulla Abdul Ghani Baradar will be released. We have not received any official confirmation about his release,” Mujahid told AFP in Kabul.
Mulla Baradar’s release brings to 34 the number of Taliban detainees that Pakistan has freed since last year, in what Afghan officials hope will encourage peace talks with the insurgents.
Karzai had asked Pakistan to help open direct dialogue between his government and the Taliban, who consider Karzai an “American puppet” and have refused to hold discussions with his government.
But Sartaj Aziz, Adviser to Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs, had said that Baradar would not be handed over to Kabul, and many believe his release will have little impact on talks.
Political analyst Talat Masood said the announcement was a “sort of a confidence-building measure between Pakistan and Afghanistan”.
“However, this release is not likely to make any significant difference in the negotiating process,” he said.
A Taliban source agreed, telling AFP Mulla Baradar had lost influence after so long away and would now be kept as “a simple guy in the network” with no chance of rejoining the Quetta Shura ruling council.
The details of where Baradar will go after being freed are unclear. There has been speculation he could head to Turkey or Saudi Arabia, but the Taliban source said he would probably stay in Karachi, where his family lives.