Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif meets with Karzai

By Mirwais Harooni and Hamid Shalizi

KABUL (Reuters) – Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised Afghanistan on Saturday that he would help arrange further meetings between Afghan officials and a former Taliban commander as part of renewed efforts to revive a defunct peace process.

Pakistan announced it would release the insurgent group’s former second-in-command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Afghan officials believe he still retains enough influence within the Taliban to help rekindle peace talks.

In a first such meeting, an Afghan delegation travelled to Pakistan about 10 days ago to meet the former commander, who remains under the close supervision of his Pakistani minders.

Sharif, in Kabul on a visit on Saturday, insisted Baradar was free and promised to facilitate further meetings.

“Mullah Baradar has been released. We have discussed this matter at length today,” Sharif said. “Anybody who is sent … we will make sure that such meetings take place.”

Baradar’s captivity in Pakistan has been a source of tension as anxiety grows ahead of the withdrawal of most U.S.-led troops from Afghanistan, planned for the end of next year.

But the Taliban have yet to indicate they would accept the former leader back into the fold, or indeed even talk to him. It was also unclear whether Baradar himself was willing – or even able – to cooperate.

An Afghan official said Baradar appeared to have been sedated and unable to talk during his meeting with representatives of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council in the Pakistani port city of Karachi 10 days ago.

“The Afghan High Peace Council delegation did meet with Mullah Baradar, but in practical terms they discussed nothing because he was drugged and was unable to talk,” the senior Afghan government official said.

Sharif’s pledge followed last month’s breakthrough in negotiations between the two countries that have a long history of distrust along a border stretching more than 2,500 km.

Karzai formed the Afghan High Peace Council in 2010 to pursue a negotiated peace with the Taliban, who have been leading an insurgency since being ousted from power by U.S.-led forces in 2001.

(Writing by Jessica Donati; Editing by Maria Golovnina and Clarence Fernandez)

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