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Former Taliban Leader's Release Fails To Revive Peace Talks

Taliban fighters pose with their weapons in Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province. (file photo)
Just weeks ago, his release was hailed by the Afghan government as the key to successful peace talks with the Taliban.

But Pakistan's decision to free Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's co-founder and former second-in-command, has failed to live up to Kabul's expectations.

No formal negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban have been scheduled. No location has been set. And it is unclear whether Baradar is actually free at all. Added together, it appears that Kabul's efforts to negotiate a peaceful end to the 12-year conflict in Afghanistan have suffered yet another blow.

Even before his reported release in September, questions were raised about Baradar and the possible role he could play in the peace process. There were doubts about his clout with the current Taliban high command and whether he could convince the militant group to end its bloody insurgency.

But to the Afghan government, securing Baradar's release became a top priority as soon as he was arrested in a joint operation conducted by Pakistani security forces and the CIA in Karachi in 2010. The widely held belief at the time was that he was targeted because Islamabad was concerned that he would circumvent the Pakistani authorities and enter into direct negotiations with Kabul.

No Framework

Kate Clark, a senior analyst at Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent research organization in Kabul, says she is not surprised that Baradar's release has not immediately resulted in peace talks.

"What you needed was not only his release but some mechanism or political framework for him to fit into or some place for him to work from," Clark said. "We also don't know if he wants to make peace. After many years in a Pakistani jail he might actually want to fight."

Clark says Kabul had unrealistic expectations that Pakistan would release Baradar without keeping close tabs on him. And now there are new complications -- both the Taliban and the Afghan government have said he is still being held by Pakistan's security establishment.

Despite Pakistan's recent pledge that Baradar is "free to meet and contact anyone to advance the cause of reconciliation," there are indications that he has simply been placed under house arrest.

Clark says that for any Taliban leader to be effective in a peace process he would have to be independent of both Islamabad and Kabul.

House Arrest?

The Afghan High Peace Council (AHPC), the presidentially appointed Afghan body tasked with pursuing a peace settlement with the militant group, has said Baradar is being held in Peshawar, in Pakistan's restive northwest.

Maulavi Shahzada Shahid, a spokesman for the AHPC, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that they know Baradar's address but have not been able to make contact with him because his communications and movement are being restricted.

"Unfortunately, it's clear that Mullah Baradar is not completely free," Shahid said. "He has been transferred to Peshawar. We don't know the reason but he is being held under house arrest. For the sake of his contribution to peace, we want him freed."

Pakistan announced in September that the former Taliban leader had been released, but has been silent about where he may have gone afterward.

The Taliban says it has not reached out to Baradar because he is under house arrest.

In a statement on October 9, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Baradar could not meet anybody or move anywhere without permission from Islamabad.

"Unfortunately, he still spends his days and nights in prison and his health condition is worrying," read the statement. "It is getting worse day-by-day."

Taliban sources have told international news agencies that Baradar is being held by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's notorious spy agency. Those sources have suggested that the ISI could be attempting to persuade Baradar to protect Pakistan's interests during Afghan-led peace talks.

In July, the Taliban closed its new political office in Qatar after protests by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who objected angrily to the presence of the Taliban's flag and insignia on the grounds of the building, which was intended to host peace negotiations.

Baradar's release came amid reports that he would lead negotiation efforts at a new Taliban political office. Saudi Arabia and Turkey were identified as possible locations for the office, but no such opening has been announced.
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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.