Pakistan released Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on Saturday. On Friday, a Foreign Office statement saidthis was being done to facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process. Though the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson did not comment on where he was to be taken to on release, unofficially it was learnt he is likely to stay in Pakistan itself.
Prior to this, Pakistan released 32 Taliban detainees to further the reconciliation process. Baradar’s release was also under discussion when Afghan President Hamid Karzai met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in August.A close associate of Mullah Omar, he was arrested in 2010.
However, questions are being asked on the real reasonand its impact on the peace process. Pakistan’s ex-ambassador to Afghanistan Rustom Shah Mohmand said it would only have a symbolic effect as the Taliban leadership has consistently refused to talk to the Afghan government and has set up its own office in Doha to talk to the U.S. The Afghan government thinks Mullah Baradar could open a channel between the Taliban leadership and the Afghan government, he pointed out.
Mr. Mohmand said that practically it would have little impactsince once the Taliban leaders are arrested, they cease to become members of the movement. He added that Taliban refuses to acknowledge Baradar as a leader any more. News reports said 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 Baradar could become the direct contact between Taliban and the Afghan leadership since he was one of the core founder members of the Taliban. The U.S. too was keen on his release so that he can negotiate directly with the Afghan leadership. Lieutenant-General (retired) Talat Masood, chief coordinator of Pugwash, felt that the release of Baradar was a good move and it would be symbolic if not substantive.He said the new Taliban leadership could look at him with suspicion, adding that Baradar could be sent to Saudi Arabia or Turkey but he could also be a free man here in Pakistan under protection or be sent to the Taliban areas later.
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.