The Afghan Taliban confirms that Pakistan has released the co-founder of the insurgent group — a move seen as a gesture aimed at bringing the Taliban, the Afghan government and the United States to the negotiating table.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar served as second-in-command under Mullah Omar and co-ordinated the group’s military operations in southern Afghanistan.
Pakistan declined to comment on the alleged release, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal on Thursday telling reporters that he would “not like to comment on media reports”.
Security experts in Kabul said the move could be a result of talks launched by the U.S. special representative Zalmay Khalilzad with the Taliban. Earlier this month Khalilzad met Taliban leaders in Qatar in an effort to find a way to end the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan.
Baradar, who coordinated the group’s military operations in southern Afghanistan, was arrested in 2010 by a team from Pakistan’s military-controlled intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
“Our beloved leaders have joined us back and we are celebrating their freedom,” said a senior member of the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
He said the Taliban leaders were released from jail a week ago but were united with their family on Wednesday. It is not clear what charges the men faced in Pakistan.
“Their old friends, followers, relatives and people of Taliban movement are visiting them and greeting them for their safe release. It’s like a celebration as Mullah Baradar is one of the few leaders who raised the Taliban movement,” added a second Taliban source.