A picture provided to NBC News by sources close to the Afghan Taliban appears to show Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar addressing Taliban somewhere in Afghanistan in 2003.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan on Saturday released the former Taliban second-in-command, a man Afghanistan believes could help tempt moderate Taliban leaders to the negotiating table and bring peace after more than a decade of war.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the founders of the Taliban movement and a key lieutenant to its leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, was captured by Pakistani authorities in a joint operation with the CIA in 2010.
"We have released him on the request of the Afghan President Mr. Hamid Karzai, as he has claimed that he (Baradar) could play an important role in establishing contacts between the high peace council and the Afghan Taliban" a senior aide to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told NBC News on Saturday.
But those close to the situation said it is doubtful Baradar still has the political clout to play such a pivotal role after three years of detention.
The Afghan Taliban have refused to hold any talks with the Afghan government.
"We do not recognize the Karzai government, and he is puppet of U.S.," an Afghan Taliban commander close to Mullah Omar told NBC News.
The commander said that Baradar has no role to play in any process for facilitating talks.
Omar "has taken a policy decision that those who have been released from the custody of any country have no official role except that they can join the movement as a member," he added.
"Mullah Baradar used to be second in command, and now someone else has been elevated to that position," the commander said.
A Pakistani cleric with close contacts inside the Afghan Taliban also ruled out any possibility for Baradar to have political influence.
"There is no doubt Mullah Baradar was close to Mulla Omar, but I don't think he could play any role," to help bring the Afghan government and Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table in Doha, Qatar, Allama Tahir Ashrafi, chairman of the Pakistan Ulema (Clerics) Council said.
Ashrafi has just returned after a three-day visit to Doha. He said for the resumption of peace talks, the Afghan Taliban must have guarantees from the United States. He also expects talks to relocate from Doha to Saudi Arabia.
Pakistani officials maintain that all efforts are being made to support an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led reconciliation process.
"We don't want to be seen as driving the process," a senior Pakistan foreign ministry official said. "They say so that Mullah Baradar can play an important role, so let's see," he added.
First published September 21 2013, 8:14 AM