Insurgent leader Pakistan said it released is still in custody, Taliban say

McClatchy Foreign StaffOctober 9, 2013 

— Afghanistan’s Taliban complained Wednesday that Pakistan has yet to release their No. 2 commander despite saying it had done so on Sept. 21.

Pakistani officials had said they hoped that the release of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who’d been in Pakistani custody since 2010, would help persuade Pakistani insurgents to enter peace talks with the government.

But a spokesman for the Afghan Taliban said that Baradar, the deputy to Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Mohammed Omar, remained in custody.

“Unfortunately, he still spends his days and nights in prison, and his health condition is worrying. It is deteriorating day by day,” the spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said in a statement released in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani government made no comment on the Taliban assertion. If it’s true, it would suggest that the Pakistani government may be unable to act as a go-between in proposed peace talks between the United States and Taliban leaders.

The Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate captured Baradar in January 2010 in Karachi, in a joint operation with the CIA.

Taliban militants in Karachi who are organizing the infiltration of fighters into Afghanistan, speaking only on the condition of anonymity because they didn’t want to come to the attention of authorities, said Baradar had been freed from the Karachi jail where he’d been held and had been allowed to spend time with his family. After that, however, the ISI took him back into custody and moved him to an unknown location.

Pakistan news reports suggested that he was being held in the northwest city of Peshawar or in the insurgent tribal area of North Waziristan.

Sartaj Aziz, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s foreign policy adviser, had expressed optimism that Baradar would help push Pakistan’s militant insurgents, known as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, into peace talks with the government.

Instead, confusion surrounds Pakistan’s attempts to parley with its insurgents. A spokesman for the chief minister of the northwest Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, Shiraz Paracha, told Pakistani cable news channels Wednesday that a delegation of religious scholars, acting on behalf of the government, had started negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban. The government is keeping the scholars’ identities secret because of the sensitivity of the situation, he said.

But the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan’s nominal chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, denied that any talks were being held, and he accused the government of falsely building public hopes for peace.

Last month, Sharif canceled peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban after they claimed responsibility for the twin suicide bombings of a church congregation Sept. 23 in Peshawar, which killed more than 80 people. Since then, however, they’ve disavowed any involvement in the church attack or one Sept. 30 that killed 40 people in Peshawar’s busy Qissa Khwani Bazaar. On Oct. 1, a council of militant leaders announced that it would hold peace talks with the government.

The next day, however, Mehsud added a spoiler by conditioning the talks on an end to CIA drone strikes against militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

Hussain is a McClatchy special correspondent.

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