Pakistan released its highest-ranking Afghan Taliban prisoner on Saturday in an effort to jump-start Afghanistan's struggling peace process, Pakistani officials said.
The Afghan government has long demanded that Pakistan free Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's former deputy leader who was arrested in a joint raid with the Central Intelligence Agency in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi in 2010.
The United States is also keen for the Afghan government to strike a peace deal with the Taliban before it withdraws most of its combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. But the US pressured Pakistan not to release Baradar because of concerns he would return to the battlefield, officials said.
Baradar was released Saturday morning, said Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, without providing further details, including where the prisoner was held.
Baradar will remain in Pakistan after his release and will be provided with tight security, said Pakistani intelligence and security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the media. He will be free to meet with anyone he chooses, they said.
Baradar, who is around 50 years old, was one of the founding members of the Taliban along with the group's leader Mullah Omar. He served as a senior military leader and defence minister after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in 1996.
Not everyone agreed that Baradar's release would contribute to peace, saying his long imprisonment had robbed him of both his influence and position in the Taliban.
Pakistan has released at least 33 Taliban prisoners over the last year at the Afghan government's request in an attempt to boost peace negotiations between the insurgents and Kabul. But there is no sign that the previous releases have helped peace talks, and some of the prisoners are believed to have returned to the fight against the Afghan government.
Another major hurdle to restarting talks is Washington's reluctance to release five senior Taliban commanders being held at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, according to the American official.