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Pakistan: Afghan Taliban Leader To Be Freed
Pakistan is to free the former Taliban second-in-command to help the peace process in neighbouring Afghanistan, a senior official has said.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, also known as Mullah Brother, is likely to be freed as soon as this month but will not be returned home, Pakistan's foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz revealed.
"In principle, we have agreed to release him. The timing is being discussed. It should be very soon ... I think within this month," he said.
"He will not be handed over to Afghanistan."
Baradar, who was captured in the Pakistani city of Karachi in 2010, is believed to be more open than other senior Taliban to talks but it is not clear how much the release would help initiate a peace process with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
"Obviously Karzai wanted him to go to Afghanistan, but we feel that if they are to play a positive role in the reconciliation process then they must do it according to what their own shura (council), their own leadership, wants them to do," he said.
"That they can't do unless they are released. ... I think he (Karzai) accepted this point that they should play a constructive role in the peace process."
Much of the Taliban leadership forced out of Afghanistan by the US-led coalition is believed to be living in Pakistan.
Seven other Taliban prisoners were released over the weekend following a visit to Pakistan by Mr Karzai.
Pakistani politicians have also calls from President Nawaz Sharif to begin peace talks with the country's own Taliban militants after more than a decade of hostility.
Representatives from the main coalition and opposition parties at a conference to discuss the issue asked the government to "initiate the dialogue" with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Shahidullah Shahid, the main spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban, welcomed the move and said that a Taliban shura (council) would meet in next two days to discuss the issue.
"Our shura will meet in next two days and will discuss this offer," he said. "We will chalk out a strategy for the talks and will later announce it."
Pakistan has initiated peace talks with militants in the past.
But previous deals have failed and come under sharp criticism both domestically and by the US for allowing the extremists space to regroup before launching a new wave of attacks.
Pakistani politicians also expressed their dissatisfaction over the US's continuing drone strikes and asked the government to raise the issue internationally.
The Pakistani government considers the strikes by unmanned US aircraft as a violation of its sovereignty, but Washington views them as a vital tool in the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban.