ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Pakistan will release a key Afghan Taliban militant on Saturday amid hopes of reviving a U.S.-backed peace process in Afghanistan.
On Friday, the country's ministry of foreign affairs in a brief statement issued in Islamabad confirmed the planned release of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on Saturday and said his freedom will "further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process."
Baradar was arrested in a joint U.S.-Pakistan raid in Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi in 2010. Once widely known as the Taliban's military chief who directed their military operations while the hardline movement ruled over Afghanistan, Baradar like many of his other compatriots was forced to go underground following a U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan after the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York known as 9/11.
Baradar's upcoming release was revealed to CBS News on Sept. 10 by Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan's de facto foreign minister.
Aziz's comments followed Pakistan's release of a batch of seven Afghan Taliban militants earlier in September, including Mansoor Dadullah, a notorious former Taliban military commander.
Western diplomats and senior Pakistan intelligence officials on Friday told CBS News that Baradar's release appeared to be driven by Pakistan's interest in strengthening its own position over the negotiations surrounding Afghanistan.
"Once the U.S. draws down its troops from Afghanistan by end 2014, Pakistan believes there will be a security void and Pakistan wants to fill that void," said one Western diplomat in Islamabad, who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity. "Mullah Baradar's release is very much in line with Pakistan's thinking. It (Pakistan) wants to push someone to the negotiating table who has been in Pakistan's custody for more than three years and probably has established a good relationship with Pakistan" added the diplomat.
A senior Pakistani intelligence official who also spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity said Baradar's release provides an opportunity for "all the relevant players to negotiate with someone who is a well known and well respected figure among the Taliban. He has the right credibility to not only discuss the future of Afghanistan with his enemies but more importantly he is someone who can talk to the Taliban".
Other Pakistani officials who have spoken to CBS News, said they believe that U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to scale down the conflict in Afghanistan by end 2014 has probably intensified the interest in Washington to seek a negotiated settlement with the Taliban well ahead of the departure of U.S.-led Western troops. However, efforts for a negotiated settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government led by Afghan President Hamid Karzai have so far made limited headway.
A second senior Pakistani intelligence who also spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity said late on Friday that Baradar could fly either to Saudi Arabia or Turkey upon his release. "The decision is that he (Baradar) will not be handed over to the Afghan authorities. Instead, he (Baradar) may go to Saudi Arabia or Turkey or consider staying in Pakistan," said the official, adding "the idea is for him to take charge of the (Afghan) peace initiative."