Pakistan has released Taliban co- founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar from imprisonment, as reported by Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid late last week. He was released shortly after the Taliban confirmed their conversation with US Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad in Doha, Qatar. This development has the potential to affect Afghan reconciliation talks, which are necessary to bridge the gap between the Afghan government and the militant group. The Taliban has maintained that they believe the Afghan government is an illegitimate entity, and has insisted on talking to the United States primarily regarding reconciliation. The United States has been a driver of these talks for many years, one of the most recent examples being U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ visit to Afghanistan last month to discuss counter- terrorism, the peace process, and discourse with Pakistan. The decision to release Baradar may be the catalyst for change in this regard, and may bring the Taliban, the Afghan government, the Pakistani government, and the United States closer to a resolution.
Before his arrest, Baradar was a crucial figure in the Taliban’s recruitment and financing operations, and was based in the southern provinces of Afghanistan where the Taliban movement started. Baradar’s release occurred days after General Abdul Raziq was killed, who had led the fight against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. Mujahid stated, “Mullah Baradar reached his relatives… this is the result of the recent contacts with the Americans.” Qatar also played a significant role in the release of Baradar, as Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheik Mohammad Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani visited Pakistan in the past two weeks to meet with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
The details of Baradar’s arrest and release have generated a lot of discussion about the relationship between Pakistan and the Taliban. The New York Times reported, “At the time of his arrest, Mullah Baradar had initiated secret contacts with the Afghan government, then led by Hamid Karzai, a move that had angered Pakistan, which has long provided the Taliban leadership with sanctuary.” Pakistani authorities had arrested Baradar and other Taliban leaders after obtaining this knowledge, establishing their authority over the negotiations occurring between the parties. While the Afghan government has been attempting to create peace talks between the Taliban and Pakistan, they have often been unfruitful. The Taliban is insistent on communicating with America primarily, before any other party.
What does Baradar’s release mean regarding peace talks with the Taliban? Was this a strategic move in the hopes of creating further conversations on this topic? The release could be connected with the United States’ efforts to create sustainable peace talks with the Taliban and the Afghan government; they have been unsuccessful thus far, but this development may be enough of an incentive to improve relations. The United States’ efforts to create sustainable peace talks with the Taliban have been ongoing for over a decade, and have involved the Afghan and Pakistani governments, among others. The New York Times explained, “The American efforts faced a hiccup recently when the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, learned that United States diplomats had met with the Taliban and tried to hide news of the meeting from him.” Because there are so many actors involved with the development of peace talks, the situation has become quite politicized. As mentioned earlier, Pakistani authorities had arrested Baradar for contacting the Afghan government without their knowledge. Because Pakistan had been providing him with safe haven, this move was not accepted by the country’s government. It is unclear what Baradar’s role will be in further peace talks; while he was interested in this development before his arrest in 2010, his current stance on this issue are unknown.
The consequences of this decision will play out over the next few months, as Baradar gets reintegrated into society. While he was an important figure in the Taliban at the time of his arrest, there were multiple leadership changes within the Taliban while he was in detention. He is now considered to be under Pakistan’s influence, but is still a trusted member of the Afghan Taliban. Taliban sources have stated that he will play a submissive role if reintegrated back into the Taliban leadership council, due to his imprisonment for several years.