Reuters reports: In the cloistered circles of the Taliban high command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar had no equal.
As military chief of the hardline Islamic movement that once ruled Afghanistan and was ousted by a U.S.-led alliance, he oversaw the campaign of ambushes and roadside bombings that proved his fighters could threaten the most advanced armies.
When the talismanic leader was caught in the Pakistani city of Karachi in 2010, some Afghan officials hoped the magnetism he forged in war would persuade his former comrades to start talking peace. Indeed, news that Islamabad had allowed Afghan officials to visit Baradar two months ago sparked speculation in both countries of the prospects for a settlement.
Instead, Pakistan’s refusal to hand him over to Afghanistan symbolises one of the biggest obstacles to negotiations: a legacy of bone-deep suspicion dividing the neighbours.
Afghanistan fears that Pakistan is only pretending to support dialogue while its intelligence agencies harbour Taliban leaders to project influence across their shared frontier.
Any move to repatriate Baradar would raise Afghan hopes that Pakistan is willing to play a genuinely constructive role and open the door to other prominent insurgents.
“Releasing Mullah Baradar would encourage other Taliban leaders to embrace reconciliation,” Ismail Qasemyar, an adviser to Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, told Reuters. “It would be a huge symbolic step.” [Continue reading…]