Pakistan has released its top-ranking Afghan Taliban prisoner, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Afghanistan hopes he can act as an effective peace broker with the Taliban.
Baradar was let go on Saturday, a day after Pakistan's Foreign Ministry announced it would let the Taliban's former second-in-command go. There was no official confirmation, but the move was confirmed by Pakistani television and senior officials speaking to media.
"Yes Baradar has been released," Interior Ministry spokesman Omar Hamid told the AFP news agency.
Baradar was arrested in January 2010 in a joint raid by Pakistani security services with the CIA in Karachi. Afghanistan has long lobbied for his release, saying he could be an important figure in driving peace talks ahead of the withdrawal of US-led international troops by the end of next year. He has been touted as a figure who Afghanistan and Pakistan believe could help to persuade his former Taliban comrades to lay down their weapons and engage in peace talks.
His release was welcomed by Afghanistan's former foreign minister under Taliban rule, Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, who added that Pakistan should not 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 told the Associated Press news agency.
Baradar is now the 34th Taliban prisoner released by Pakistan over the past year at Afghanistan's request with the aim of aiding peace negotiations.
It is unclear where Baradar would travel upon his being set free. Afghanistan has in the past called for Taliban prisoners to be released into its custody, but they instead have been released in Pakistan.
dr/mkg (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)