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Pakistan releases senior Taliban commander

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Pakistan on Saturday released its most senior Afghan Taliban detainee, Abdul Ghani Baradar, a senior official of the interior ministry told AFP, a move Kabul hopes will encourage peace talks with the insurgents.

Baradar, a one-time military chief often described as the insurgents' former second-in-command, was the most high profile detained Taliban commander in Pakistan.

"Yes Baradar has been released," Omar Hamid, a spokesman for the interior ministry told AFP, without elaborating on the circumstances of the release.

Pakistan's foreign ministry on Friday said that Baradar's release would facilitate Afghanistan's reconciliation process with the Taliban as a NATO combat mission there winds down.

"In order to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process, the detained Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, would be released tomorrow (Saturday)," the foreign ministry had said in a statement.

However, the Taliban's spokesman in Afghanistan, Zabihullah Mujahid said they could not yet confirm the release.

"We only heard through the media that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will be released. We have not received any official confirmation about his release," Mujahid told AFP in Kabul.

The Afghan government has long demanded that Islamabad free Baradar, whose arrest in January 2010 saw Pakistan accused of sabotaging initiatives to bring peace in war-torn Afghanistan.

He was arrested in Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi, reportedly in a secret raid by CIA and Pakistani agents, in an operation that was described as a huge blow to the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan until a US-led invasion in 2001.

At the time of his arrest Baradar was reported to have been the Taliban's second-in-command, the right hand man of the Afghan Taliban's supreme commander Mullah Omar.

He was the most senior member of the Taliban held after US-led troops invaded Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, bringing down the Islamist regime.

His release brings to 34 the number of Taliban detainees that Pakistan has freed since last year, in what Afghan officials hope will encourage peace talks with Taliban insurgents.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai had asked Pakistan to help open direct dialogue between his government and the Taliban, who consider Karzai an "American puppet" and have refused to hold discussions with his government.

But Sartaj Aziz, the main adviser to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on national security and foreign affairs had said that Baradar would not be handed over to Kabul, and analysts agree his release will have little impact on talks.

Political analyst Talat Masood said the announcement was a "sort of a confidence-building measure between Pakistan and Afghanistan".

"However, this release is not likely to make any significant difference in the negotiating process," he said.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130921/pakistan-releases-senior-taliban-commander-1