ISLAMABAD The man who once directed the military strategy of Afghanistan's Taliban militants and was eventually arrested in Pakistan will be released soon - possibly this month, the country's de facto foreign minister on Tuesday told CBS News.
News of the upcoming release of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Taliban's former military chief who was arrested in Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi in a joint U.S.-Pakistan raid in 2010, follows Saturday's release by Pakistan of seven Afghan Taliban figures including Mansoor Dadullah, a notorious former military commander.
These releases ahead of next year's planned drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan have reinforced the impression of Pakistan stepping up efforts to push for a settlement of the conflict in its neighboring country which is also central to U.S. interests.
Sartaj Aziz, the adviser to Pakistan's prime minister on foreign policy and national security - a position that makes him the de facto foreign minister, also told CBS News that upon his release, it would be up to Baradar to decide where he wants to go next.
"We will leave it up to Mullah Baradar to decide his next step. Obviously, we will not force him" Aziz said.
Western diplomats tracking events in Afghanistan said that while Baradar's release may disappoint some in Afghanistan's ruling structure who were hoping to take him into custody and use him as a bargaining chip for negotiating with the Taliban, Baradar's freedom may give greater confidence to the Taliban to join a peace process.
"Pakistan has a lot of clout with the Taliban. The decision to undertake these fairly big steps may have involved some kind of a quiet settlement between Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban" said one Western ambassador in Islamabad who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity. "Maybe the Taliban have already made a commitment (to Pakistan) to become more active (in a future peace process)".
In a related development on Monday, leaders of Pakistan's main political parties formally allowed Sharif to open peace talks with Taliban militants active inside Pakistan, under an umbrella known as the Tehree-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP. Sharif, who was elected as Pakistan's prime minister for the third time in May this year, has said that Pakistan's conflict with the TTP cannot be won militarily.
A senior leader of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) political party who spoke to CBS NEWS on Tuesday on condition of anonymity said that Sharif was keen to facilitate a settlement in Afghanistan ahead of next year's planned U.S. drawdown from that country.
"This is in Pakistan's own interest," the leader said. "If peace begins returning to Afghanistan, maybe the Taliban in Pakistan will also feel compelled to give up their fight."
Pakistani officials claim that more than 40,000 Pakistanis have been killed in terrorist violence since the country turned its back on Afghanistan's Taliban regime after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and joined the U.S.-led global war on terror.