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Pakistan

Pakistan releases key Afghan Taliban figure Baradar

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry has released its top-ranking Afghan Taliban prisoner, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Afghanistan hopes Baradar can act as an effective peace broker with the Taliban.

On Friday, a Foreign Ministry statement announced that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar would be released September 21, "in order to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process." The statement did not say where Baradar would be sent, a contentious issue because Afghanistan wants him repatriated.

Afghanistan had repeatedly demanded that Pakistan release Baradar. President Hamid Karzai, who is seeking to shore up security at home ahead of the withdrawal of international troops in 2014, believes Baradar is more open to dialogue than many members of the Afghan Taliban and can act as an effective broker for peace. Karzai's government has sought reconciliation with the Taliban, ousted from power during the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.

Baradar, once Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar's deputy, was arrested in Karachi in 2010, during a joint Pakistani raid with the CIA. Since then, however, the US has joined the Afghan government in lobbying for his release.

He has been touted as a figure who Afghanistan and Pakistan believe could help to persuade his former Taliban comrades to lay down their weapons and engage in peace talks.

Karzai visited Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last month (pictured above) and appealed for support as he seeks to improve domestic security. Pakistan has released more than 30 Taliban prisoners over the past year in response to requests from Kabul. The two countries' shared border is already porous, with fighting on both sides.

No official talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban are currently scheduled. The last, set in the Qatari capital, Doha, this June, were cancelled by Karzai before they even began.

hc/msh (Reuters, AFP, AP)