A provincial high court in Pakistan's Punjab province on Friday blocked the Pakistani government from extraditing recently-arrested Taliban leaders — notably military chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (left) — to the United States, Afghanistan, or any other country until the matter is heard further in court.
The court's intervention (in response to a petition from an individual campaigning against Pakistan's ties with the U.S.) immediately cast doubt on a case seen as an example of Pakistan's growing support of Washington's hunt for Taliban militants within their borders.
Baradar was arrested in the southern port city of Karachi earlier this month, in a raid led by Pakistan's main counterintelligence agency (known as the ISI, or Inter-Services Intelligence), with support from the CIA, a knowledgeable Pakistani intelligence official told CBS News on the condition that he not be named.
After Friday's court decision, the Pakistani government has the option to appeal to the country's Supreme Court, though when asked for their reaction, officials in Islamabad said there were no such plans for now.
In the past three days, Afghan officials have said publicly that Pakistan had agreed to hand over Baradar to the Afghan government — a step that would have provided much closer access to him by U.S. interrogators than what U.S. officials present during his interrogation by Pakistani intelligence officials reportedly had.
However, Pakistani government officials said they were first going to investigate the detained Taliban militants in the country before considering their extradition.
Following today's decision, Khalid Khawaja, a campaigner who has opposed Pakistan's support of the U.S. in hunting down Islamic militants and who filed the petition to the Lahore high court, told CBS News, "This is a great day for me. The government has finally been told in categorical terms that these people cannot be sent outside Pakistan for now."
In addition to Baradar, other prominent Taliban militants in custody named in the petition were Mullah Abdul Salam, Mullah Kabir, Mullah Mohammad, and Mullah Amir Muawiya.
Western diplomats said the court's intervention also highlighted the increasingly robust character of Pakistan's civil society and the country's judicial system. Last year, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, was restored to his position following significant public protests, two years after he was dismissed by former President Pervez Musharraf, a staunch ally of former U.S. President George W. Bush.
"As you can appreciate, Pakistan does have voices of dissent in the public place. This is a country where democracy is taking root. We may not like some of these dissenting voices, but they do make a difference," said one Western diplomat in Islamabad, who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity.
Of today's court decision, Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani scholar on political and security affairs, told CBS News, "The Islamists are seeking to put this case in the limelight. Pakistan's society which is becoming increasingly open with a free media, allows everyone — including the Islamists — to press their point of view. The Islamists are now approaching the courts to restrain the government from taking further action against the Taliban."
Written by CBS News' Farhan Bokhari reporting from Islamabad.