Nato escorts Taliban chief to secret talks
Afghan and American official have been holding secret talks with the second ranking figure in the Taliban in the firmest indication yet that substantive peace talks have begun.
The Daily Telegraph has learned that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was released from Pakistani custody
Baradar was the Taliban's overall military commander until he was arrested in Karachi last February by Pakistani security forces in what was seen as a blow to the insurgents. Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, opposes any dialogue until the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) withdraws from Afghanistan, but Baradar was seen to be open to talks that may have excluded the hard-liners.
Baradar and three senior lieutenants travelled to Afghanistan under Nato guard for the talks. "Baradar isn't acting on our behalf but our understanding is that he is meeting with people in his organisation to build a consensus that will let the Taliban come to the dialogue table," an Afghan official said.
Gen David Petraeus, the commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, disclosed that Taliban figures had been granted safe passage to talks in Afghanistan. The admission came amid a flurry of claims that senior Taliban leaders, including members of its ruling Quetta Shura and the feared Haqqani Network, were involved in talks.
Until now, contacts between President Hamid Karzai's government and the Taliban-led insurgency have been low-level and regarded as inconsequential by diplomats. Washington remains sceptical about talks and the disclosure that Baradar is involved may be designed to marginalise hard-liners close to Mullah Omar.
Taliban commanders have conceded that Baradar is now in Afghanistan. A Pakistani diplomatic official said Baradar was "to the best of my knowledge, no longer in our custody".
A statement published on the Taliban's website early this week was ambigious on talks. It said: "Nobody would believe such talk unless foreign troops in Afghanistan act honestly, [and] announce clear and transparent plans for addressing the issue."
Baradar was among the earliest Afghanistan fighters to swear allegiance to Mullah Omar in 1994 after the organisation was formed.
He rose to be the Taliban's deputy chief after the 2004 death of its one-legged military commander, Mullah Dadullah.
Michael Semple, a former European Union envoy, said many hurdles remained before an agreement could be reached. "If this signals that the US and Nato are starting to take a more creative approach to the Taliban leadership and thinking of them as potential partners for peace in Afghanistan, then it's a step forward," he said.
The Taliban were blamed yesterday for a roadside bomb that killed eight people in a vehicle in Delaram district of south-western Nimroz province. Six people were wounded, the provincial police chief Abdul Jabar Purdeli said.
Meanwhile, last month's Afghan parliamentary election result was thrown into disarray when the country's election commissioner rejected 1.3 million votes - 23pc of those cast – as fraudulent.