The Pakistan government released the detained Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on Saturday.
On Friday, a foreign office statement said that this was being done to facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process. It is not known where he will be released and the ministry of foreign affairs spokesperson did not comment on it. Unofficially it is learnt he is likely to stay in Pakistan itself.
Before this, Pakistan has released 32 Taliban detainees to assist in the reconciliation process in Afghanistan. The release of Baradar was also under discussion when Afghan president Hamid Karzai met Prime Minister Muhammed Nawaz Sharif last month here. Baradar is a close associate of Mullah Omar and was arrested in 2010.
However, questions are being asked on the real reason for his release and if it will have an impact on the peace process. Former Pakistan ambassador to Afghanistan, Rustom Shah Mohmand says that it will have a symbolic effect as the Taliban leadership has consistently refused to talk to the Afghanistan government and it had set up an office in Doha to talk to the US. The Afghanistan government has not succeeded in establishing links with the Taliban and it thinks Mullah Baradar could open channels between the Taliban leadership and the Afghan government, he pointed out.
Mr. Mohmand said that this was the strategic reason behind this release. Practically he said it will have little impact, since once the Taliban leaders are arrested, they cease to become members of the movement. By detaining Baradar they have destroyed his role in the movement, he added as the Taliban refuses to acknowledge him as a leader. There were two groups of prisoners who were set free earlier but they were asked to come back to Afghanistan and fight the coalition forces. The release, he said will not translate into any tangible action as far as reconciliation process goes.
News reports said that Baradar may not be able to leave Pakistan and the foreign office had in the past rubbished reports that he would be handed over to Turkey or elsewhere. However Zahir Shah Sherazi, bureau chief of Dawn for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal areas (FATA), said that Baradar could become the direct contact between Taliban and the Afghan leadership since he was one of the core founder members of the Taliban. It was also a confidence building measure and Baradar is second in command to Mullah Omar and a close associate of his. The US too was keen on his release so that he can negotiate directly with the Afghan leadership. Sherazi said the Taliban was keen on controlling some 20 odd provinces in Afghanistan in the future and even be part of the political process.
The move is seen by some as a confidence building exercise by Pakistan. Lieutenant General(retired) Talat Masood, chief coordinator of Pugwash, felt that the release of Baradar was a good move and it will be symbolic if not substantive. This will depend on to what extent he can influence the future negotiations if they take place and also how influential he can be in his own ranks and what role Taliban leader Mullah Omar will give him. Mr. Masood also said that the new Taliban leadership could look at him with suspicion. Baradar could be sent to Saudi Arabia or Turkey but he could also be a free man here in Pakistan under protection or be released in the Taliban areas later, he added.
According to media reports there were more Taliban detainees to be released but Mullah Baradar was among the top ranking of them. It remains to be seen how his release will impact the reconciliation process.