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The Key To Afghan Peace Unlocked?

It is hoped that the release of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar could help ensure that more Taliban fighters like these men put down their guns. (file photo)
It is hoped that the release of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar could help ensure that more Taliban fighters like these men put down their guns. (file photo)
He once orchestrated some of the most deadly attacks in Afghanistan, but Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is now seen by many as the country's best hope for peace.

Word that the former Taliban second-in-command will be released from prison in Pakistan comes as good news to Kabul, which has for years sought his release so he could play a lead role in Afghan-led negotiations.

But for Baradar to actually deliver the long-sought breakthrough with the insurgents, a number of things would have to fall in place. The landscape has changed immensely since February 2010, when Baradar was captured in Karachi.

The widely held belief at the time was that he was targeted by Pakistani security forces because they were wary of his willingness to circumvent Islamabad and enter into direct negotiations with Kabul.

May Not Have The Influence

He was seen as capable of winning moderate Taliban over to President Hamid Karzai's grand plan to integrate them back into Afghan society if they dropped their weapons, but that might not be the case today.

The Taliban are unlikely to accept him as their leader after more than three years of incarceration, according to Afghanistan analyst Younas Fakoor. And even if the militants were to accept Baradar it remains up in the air whether the peace process really runs through Kabul.

"I think, if the Americans are not onboard with his release and it does not indicate a broader change of Pakistani policy [of ceasing support to the Afghan insurgents]," Fakoor said, "then Mullah Baradar's release is only aimed at pleasing Karzai. It will not help the peace process."

Fakoor said that tribal leaders and people associated with the Taliban near Kandahar -- the birthplace of the militant group -- have told him that Baradar's influence among the insurgents is overstated.

He said that even before Baradar's capture, Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had removed him as head of military operations to a less significant post within the Taliban political office.

Release Timing Still Unclear

Pakistan foreign-policy adviser Sartaj Aziz confirmed on September 10 that Mullah Baradar will be released as soon as this month. "In principle, we have agreed to release him," he told Reuters. "The timing is being discussed."

But it is not clear what Baradar's role could be or where he might go after his release from a Pakistani detention facility.

Aziz said Baradar would not be handed over to Kabul, as hoped by the Afghan government. Instead he would be released straight into Pakistan, where most Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding.

This arises as a potential sticking point for the Karzai administration, despite the positive steps that have been taken since the Afghan president pushed for the release of Baradar and other key Taliban members during his trip to Islamabad in August.

In an interview with Radio Free Afghanistan, Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said that Kabul should be included in any decisions made when it comes to Baradar and other Taliban figures.

"The release plans should not be unilateral," Faizi said. "They should be shared with the Afghan government."

One Of Many

Over the past year, Islamabad has freed more than 30 Taliban figures, including former Justice Minister Mullah Noorudin Turabi. Their release, however, has done nothing to subdue the insurgency in Afghanistan.

Senior Afghan officials say Baradar was engaged in peace overtures with Karzai's administration for months prior to his capture in February 2010.

Tribal elders in southern Afghanistan say Baradar comes from Karzai's Popalzai tribe, which is part of the larger Durrani Pashtun lineage that has ruled Afghanistan for centuries.

Fakoor said the former Taliban commander maintained a cordial relationship with Ahmad Wali Karzai, the president's now-deceased half-brother.

Prior to taking over as Afghan president, Karzai set Baradar free after taking over southern Afghanistan from the Taliban in late 2001. For months Baradar lived peacefully in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan but moved to Pakistan due to harassment by Afghan intelligence agents.

Baradar was a senior Taliban military commander during the regime's reign in Afghanistan in the 1990s. He was a trusted lieutenant of Taliban leader Mullah Omar and among the Taliban's founding members when it emerged in 1994.

Baradar was a key contact between Omar and his followers in Pakistan and was the movement's most senior military leader in southwestern Pakistan. He directed a deadly insurgency from his Quetta hideout for years.

Written by RFE/RL's Abubakar Siddique, with additional reporting by Abdul Hameed Mohmand in Kabul
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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