|Pakistan releases top Afghan Taliban prisoner in effort to boost peace process
Afghanistan's government says it hopes former Taliban deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar can play important role in talks
Pakistan has released its highest-ranking Afghan Taliban prisoner in an effort to jump-start Afghanistan's struggling peace process.
The Afghan government has long demanded that Pakistan free Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's former deputy leader who was arrested in a joint raid with the CIA in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi in 2010.
Pakistani intelligence and security officials confirmed that he was freed on Saturday but did not provide any details, including where he had been held. Pakistan's foreign ministry had announced earlier that Baradar would be released "to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process".
Muhammad Ismail Qasimyar, a member of the Afghan government's council for negotiating with the Taliban, praised Baradar's release, saying: "We are very much hopeful that Mullah Baradar can play an important role in the peace process."
Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, who served as foreign minister for the Taliban when the group ruled Afghanistan, also welcomed Bardar's release and cautioned Pakistan not to try to control his movements now that he is free.
"They also have to allow him contact with Taliban leaders and for him to be useful for peace in Afghanistan," Muttawakil said.
Pakistan has released at least 33 Taliban prisoners over the last year at the Afghan government's request in an attempt to boost peace negotiations between the insurgents and Kabul.
But there is no sign that the previous releases have helped peace talks, and some of the prisoners are believed to have returned to the fight against the Afghan government. The US was reluctant to see Baradar released, believing he would also return to the battlefield.
Afghanistan has in the past called on Pakistan to release Taliban prisoners into its custody but they have instead been set free in Pakistan.
A spokesman for Afghanistan's foreign ministry, Janan Mosazai, has said Baradar must be "accessible, secure and with a known address" if he remains in Pakistan.
Afghan officials said Baradar had been arrested while he was holding secret peace talks with the Afghan government, and accused Pakistan of arresting him to sabotage or gain control of the process. Others said the US was the driving force behind his arrest.
Pakistan is a key player in Afghan peace talks because of its historical ties to the Taliban. Islamabad helped the Taliban seize control of Afghanistan in 1996 and is widely believed to have maintained ties with the group, despite official denials.
But there is also significant distrust between the two, and Pakistan has arrested dozens of Taliban members in the years following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
The most recent attempt to push forward peace negotiations foundered in June in the Qatari capital of Doha. The Afghan president cancelled the talks in protest at the opening of its Doha political office with the flag, anthem and symbols of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan the group's name when they ruled the country.