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Mullah Baradar was arrested by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency in Karachi in February 2010. Elements within the ISI provide safe havens as well as material and logistical support to militant groups inside Pakistan, U.S. officials said.

The ISI reportedly was upset that Mullah Baradar had been freelancing peace deals with the Karzai government without taking Pakistani interests into consideration.

However, Mullah Baradar’s commitment to peace is far from certain.

“Until the last hour of his liberty, Mullah Baradar was directly commanding the insurgency against the Afghan government and the international forces,” the former Western official said. “Since his capture we have been barraged with assertions that he was one whisker away from making peace. It’s bananas.”

“Baradar’s release won’t make a huge difference; instead, it would leave Karzai with some embarrassing explaining to do because day by day it would be difficult to sustain the myth that Baradar is Mahatma Gandhi,” he added.

Afghan Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi discussed the release of top Taliban officials, including Mullah Baradar, on recent visits to the U.S. and Pakistan. The U.S. has sought to accelerate the peace process with an eye on an end-of-2014 deadline to withdraw all combat troops from Afghanistan.

“The Afghan defense minister has left [these meetings] a happy man,” Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Sherry Rehman, told reporters at a meeting hosted by the Christian Science Monitor in Washington on Feb. 5.

While Ms. Rehman declined to say whether Mullah Baradar would soon be released, Afghan officials say they have received assurances from Pakistan that he will be freed.

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001 when they were toppled in a U.S.-led invasion for hosting al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The Taliban abandoned later U.S.-led efforts to make peace last March, citing the Obama administration’s inaction on its demand to release five high-value detainees from the U.S. military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It refuses to talk to the Karzai administration, which it derisively refers to as Western puppet.

Last week, Mr. Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari met at British Prime Minister David Cameron’s official country residence and committed themselves to achieving the goal of a peace settlement over the next six months.

The former Western official said it is unlikely that any of the released prisoners would contribute to reconciliation because there is no real peace process.

“Why would they encourage others to join reconciliation when there is no process for them to be a part of in the first place?” he asked.

Mr. Karzai and Mr. Zardari also have agreed to improve coordination on the release of Taliban prisoners.

“Up until this point, coordination on this matter from Pakistani authorities has been almost nonexistent,” the second Afghan official said.

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