Afghan Officials Met Key Taliban Figure in Pakistan

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KABUL/ISLAMABAD: Afghan officials have held secret talks with the Taliban’s former second in command who is in detention in Pakistan in a move which could help rekindle stalled peace talks with the insurgents, according to senior officials from both countries.

Afghan officials have often seen Pakistan as a reluctant partner in attempts to broker talks with the Taliban but its decision to grant access to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar may signal Islamabad’s willingness to play a more active role.

Rangin Spanta, the national security adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and an architect of peace-building efforts, said an Afghan delegation had met Mullah Baradar in Pakistan two months ago.

Baradar has been in detention since he was captured in the Pakistani city of Karachi in 2010.

“We have met Mullah Baradar,” Spanta told in Kabul.” Our delegation has spoken to him to know his view on peace talks.”

Afghan officials have publicly been demanding access to Baradar, the Taliban’s top military commander until he was captured in Karachi, but Spanta’s revelation shows preliminary contact has already been made.

Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior minister, also said that Pakistan had granted Afghan officials access to Baradar.

“They had access at the required and appropriate level,” Malik said. “We are fully cooperating with Afghanistan and whatever they are asking for the peace process, for developing peace in Afghanistan. We are giving every kind of help.”

Pakistan is seen as crucial to stability in Afghanistan as most foreign combat troops look to leave the country in 2014, given its close political and economic ties.

Afghan officials hope Baradar could play a key role in any negotiations to end the Afghan conflict, acting as a go-between with senior Taliban leaders including the movement’s reclusive one-eyed leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed last month to resume regular talks on Afghanistan’s peace process, with the new Pakistani prime minister promising to help arrange meetings between Afghan and Taliban representatives.

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