Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised Afghanistan yesterday that he would help arrange further meetings between Afghan officials and a former Taliban commander as part of renewed efforts to revive a defunct peace process.
Sharif said after meeting Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul that a deal had been reached to allow members of an Afghan peace council to continue talks with Islamabad's former prisoner, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
Pakistan announced it would release Baradar, the insurgent group's former second-in-command, in September. Afghan officials believe he still retains enough influence within the Taliban to help rekindle peace talks.
In a first such meeting, an Afghan delegation travelled to Pakistan about 10 days ago to meet the former commander, who remains under the close supervision of his Pakistani minders.
Sharif insisted Baradar was free and promised to facilitate further meetings.
"Mullah Baradar has been released. We have discussed this matter at length today," Sharif said. "Anybody who is sent ... we will make sure that such meetings take place."
Baradar's captivity in Pakistan has been a source of tension as anxiety grows ahead of the withdrawal of most US-led troops from Afghanistan, planned for the end of next year.
But the Taliban have yet to indicate they would accept the former leader back into the fold, or even talk to him. It was also unclear whether Baradar was willing - or even able - to co-operate.
An Afghan official said Baradar appeared to have been sedated and was unable to talk when he met representatives of Afghanistan's High Peace Council in Karachi 10 days ago.
"The Afghan High Peace Council delegation did meet with Mullah Baradar, but in practical terms they discussed nothing because he was drugged and was unable to talk," the senior Afghan government official said.
Sharif's pledge followed last month's breakthrough in negotiations between two countries with a long history of distrust.
Karzai formed the peace council in 2010 to pursue a negotiated peace with the Taliban, which has been leading an insurgency since being ousted from power by US-led forces in 2001.