ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan will release the Afghan Taliban’s former second-in-command Saturday to help smooth the peace process in neighboring Afghanistan, a statement from the country’s foreign office said.
NBC News file
A picture provided to NBC News by sources close to the Afghan Taliban appears to show Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar addressing Taliban somewhere in Afghanistan in 2003.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was close to the Taliban’s reclusive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar -- he is said to be married to Omar's sister -- and Mullah Omar gave him his nom de guerre "Baradar" or "brother." He was captured in Pakistan in 2010.
"In order to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process, the detained Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, would be released tomorrow," the Foreign office spokesman said in the statement.
Baradar was identified as "one of the leaders of our movement" in a November 2007 profile for the group's official Al-Somod magazine. A BBC profile identified Baradar as one of four men to found Afghan Taliban and in command of the group's day-to-day military operations and funding.
Baradar's release is seen as key to Afghanistan's efforts to kick-start the stalled peace process as NATO prepares to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and anxiety grows over what will happen to the country once international troops leave.
Shah Marai / AFP - Getty Images
More than ten years after the beginning of the war, Afghanistan faces external pressure to reform as well as ongoing internal conflicts.
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has spent years calling for Baradar’s release because he believes the former No. 2 is more open to dialogue than many of his comrades.
“Karzai sees him as someone credible and senior enough for his negotiations with the Taliban, assuming that what he said about the Taliban never negotiating or laying down their weapons was all hokum," Evan Kohlmann, a senior partner with the security firm Flashpoint Intelligence and an NBC consultant on terrorism, told NBC News.
“When you’re looking for a negotiating partner, you’re looking for someone credible, with the right credentials, who’s legitimate and who can speak on behalf of someone," Kohlmann said. "So as far as Karzai is concerned, he’s credible and there could well be people in the Taliban putting pressure on, saying they won’t talk until he is out.”