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Kabul Welcomes Top Taliban Commander's Expected Release


KABUL -- The Afghan government has welcomed news that Pakistan is ready to release former Afghan Taliban second-in-command Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in an effort to help end nearly 12 years of war in Afghanistan.

The Afghan Foreign Ministry hailed Baradar's release, saying it will help the Afghan peace process.

President Hamid Karzai's spokesman, Aimal Faizi, told RFE/RL that Kabul hoped Baradar will be freed soon.

"The issue of Mullah Baradar's release is not new," he said. "We have been asking Pakistan for years to free Mullah Baradar. This issue was included in the agenda for negotiations with Pakistani authorities during President Karzai's most recent trip there [last month]. We hope that they will do it soon."

Afghan government peace negotiators have repeatedly called for the release of Baradar, the most senior Taliban figure detained in Pakistan, and a co-founder of the militant movement.

A senior Pakistani official said on September 10 that Pakistan had agreed to release Baradar, but that no time for his release had been set yet.

Sartaj Aziz, who is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's adviser on foreign affairs, said Baradar would be released in Pakistan and not handed over to Afghanistan, as Kabul had hoped.

Aziz told RFE/RL on September 11 that it was up to Baradar to decide where he goes after his release.

"When Karzai was visiting Islamabad last time we promised him to release Mullah Baradar in order to help improve the peace talks in Afghanistan," Aziz said.

"There is no clue where he would prefer to go after he is released from Pakistani prison, it's up to him to decide but if he goes to Kabul it would not be helpful for peace talks for sure."

But Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai said Baradar must be "accessible, secure, and with a known address" if he remains in Pakistan.

"He must be accessible for peace talks and in the service of the peace process," Mosazai said.

Baradar was one of the co-founders of the Taliban movement in 1994 and is reportedly a close aide and one of the most trusted commanders of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban.

He was captured in the Pakistani port of Karachi in February 2010. It was widely believed at the time that Pakistan arrested him to sabotage direct peace talks or gain control over the process.

Pakistan has strong historical ties to the Taliban and is seen as key to U.S. and Afghan efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan as foreign troops prepare to pull out by the end of 2014.

Afghan officials have often accused Pakistan's intelligence agencies of providing sanctuary to the insurgents, despite Islamabad's denials.

The Afghan government considers Baradar as more open to dialogue than many of his comrades.

News of Baradar's pending release came less than two weeks after Karzai visited Islamabad and pushed for Pakistan's help in the peace process.

Some commentators, however, have voiced doubts about whether his release would really help peace talks.

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

Pakistan has already released 33 Afghan Taliban prisoners over the past year.

In the most recent move, Islamabad announced on September 7 that it was releasing seven other Taliban detainees, including high-profile military commander Mansoor Dadullah.

There is no sign that previous releases have helped peace talks, and some of the prisoners are believed to have returned to the fight against the Afghan government.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP and AP