Pakistan on Friday announced it will release former Afghan Taliban deputy chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on Saturday, meeting a long-standing demand of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to advance peace efforts in the war-ravaged country.
"In order to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process, the detained Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, would be released tomorrow," said a brief statement issued by Pakistan's Foreign Office.
Baradar has been in the custody of Pakistani security agencies since his capture in Karachi in 2010. He will be the highest ranking Afghan Taliban prisoner freed so far.
Though Islamabad has freed 33 Afghan Taliban commanders since last year, Baradar's release was the most anticipated.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's foreign policy aide Sartaj Aziz has said Baradar will not be handed over to Kabul.
His release was personally sought by Karzai during a recent visit to Islamabad. Analysts are sceptical whether Baradar will be able to influence the peace process, but the Afghan government thinks he could lead talks with the High Peace Council.
Kabul feels Baradar is a key figure in its efforts to kick-start the stalled peace process as most NATO combat troops prepare to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Baradar was once considered the most influential Taliban leader after Mullah Muhammad Omar. One of the four commanders who founded the Taliban movement, he was the leader responsible for the day-to-day campaign against US and NATO troops until his capture by a joint team of CIA and Pakistani intelligence operatives.
Reports say that at the time of his arrest, Baradar was holding talks with the Afghan government and had met Karzai. However, Pakistani intelligence was reportedly angered by his failure to inform them about these talks.
The US initially hailed his arrest as a blow to the Afghan insurgency but found out later that Pakistani agencies allegedly captured Baradar to scuttle the secret peace talks.
Born in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan, Baradar fought in the war to expel Soviet troops from Afghanistan in the 1980s. When the Taliban came to power in 1996, Baradar became deputy defence minister.
After the Taliban regime was toppled by US-led forces in 2001, hundreds of Taliban hardliners fled over the border to Pakistan. Baradar was among them.
Image: A policeman in plain clothes showcases a blindfolded and handcuffed Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Karachi