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Pakistani Court Blocks Extradition Of Taliban

Pakistani police at a security checkpoint on February 17 in Karachi, where security forces captured Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) -- A Pakistan court has barred the government from sending captured Afghan Taliban leaders abroad a day after Afghanistan said Pakistan had agreed to hand over a top militant commander.

U.S. ally Pakistan has captured at least four senior Taliban members in recent weeks, including the militants' top military strategist and number two leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office said on February 25 that Pakistan has agreed to hand Baradar over.

Pakistan said the previous day that Baradar was being investigated for crimes in Pakistan and would be tried there in the first instance.

Islamist rights activist Khalid Khawaja lodged a petition in the Lahore High Court expressing concern that Baradar and other captured Taliban leaders would be extradited to the United States.

"They should not be handed over to any other country," Judge Khawaja Mohammad Sharif said as he issued notices to authorities blocking the extradition of five people including Baradar.

Khawaja said in his petition the militants were Muslims and had been arrested in Pakistan so they should be tried under Pakistani law.

Pakistan has only confirmed the arrest of Baradar but Afghan government officials have said three other senior Taliban members, Abdul Salam, Mir Mohammad and Abdul Kabir, had recently been picked up in Pakistan.

As well as those four, the fifth person on the list included in the petition was identified as Ameer Muawiya.

The capture of the Taliban leaders comes as U.S. forces are spearheading one of NATO's biggest offensive against the Afghan Taliban.

Pakistan backed the Taliban during the 1990s but officially severed ties soon after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Officials have said very little about Baradar's capture but it comes as momentum is building for talks with the Taliban to end a war that Western commanders say cannot be won militarily.

Pakistan wants to play a major role in any Afghan peace talks and limit the influence of its old rival India there.

Some analysts say Baradar could help with reconciliation efforts between the Taliban and Afghanistan's U.S.-backed government.

Others analysts have suggested Baradar might have been promoting a talks process that excluded Pakistan so Pakistani agents arrested him to stop that.

Before Baradar's arrest, Pakistan had long turned a blind eye to Afghan Taliban members and supply networks on its soil, seeing the group as its best option to limit India's growing influence in Afghanistan.