September 21, 2013

Pakistan releases top Afghan Taliban prisoner

The Associated Press

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The releases ended up causing friction with Kabul – and Washington – which were both frustrated that Pakistan was not monitoring the whereabouts and activities of the former inmates. Pakistani officials have said they felt slighted by the criticism because there was no request to keep tabs on the prisoners.

The U.S. asked Pakistan to keep Baradar under house arrest rather than set him free, said senior Pakistani and American officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Pakistan refused the request, saying it would infuriate both the Afghan government and the Taliban, said the American official. The U.S. believes Baradar is one of the smartest members of the Taliban and is worried he could give the group a strategic leg-up in its battle against Afghan security forces if he rejoins the insurgency, the official said.

"Obviously, it's important that coordination between Pakistan and Afghanistan takes place to ensure that any releases are done in a responsible manner," U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said in Washington on Friday before Baradar was freed.

The circumstances surrounding Baradar's arrest in Karachi were murky. Afghan officials said at the time that he was holding secret peace talks with Karzai and accused Pakistan of arresting him to sabotage or gain control of the process. Both Baradar and Karzai are from the same tribe.

But American officials said the CIA was the driving force behind the arrest and Pakistani security forces who participated in the raid did not know they were detaining Baradar.

Pakistan is a key player in Afghan peace talks because of its historical ties to the Afghan Taliban, which Islamabad is widely believed to have maintained, despite official denials. But there is also significant distrust between the two, and Pakistan has arrested dozens of Taliban militants in the years following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Pakistan has increasingly pushed for a peace settlement because it is worried chaos in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of U.S. troops could make it more difficult to fight its own domestic Taliban militants. The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are allies but have focused their fight on opposite sides of the border.

The most recent attempt to push forward peace negotiations foundered in June in the Qatari capital of Doha. The Afghan president pulled the plug on the talks even before they began because he was angered that the group marked the opening of its Doha political office with the flag, and symbols of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan – the group's name when they ruled the country.

Another major hurdle to restarting talks is Washington's reluctance to release five senior Taliban commanders being held at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, according to the American official.

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