Pakistan may finally extradite Mullah Omar’s No 2 to Afghanistan


LAHORE: While backing the Karzai government’s efforts to reach a negotiated settlement with the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Mohammad Omar and other warring factions, the Pakistan government is most likely to extradite to Afghanistan Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and other senior Afghan militant commanders who had been arrested by the Pakistani intelligence agencies during the last six months.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai had recently made a renewed call for extradition of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the second in command of Mullah Mohammad Omar and other Taliban commanders detained in Pakistan. Although the Pakistan government had cold-shouldered extradition requests from Kabul for the Taliban leaders in the past, some well informed foreign office circles in Islamabad say the Zardari government is now expected to respond positively to the fresh plea by Karzai because of an assured role in the possible endgame in the Afghan imbroglio and narrowing of bilateral mistrust following some recent changes in Afghan intelligence set-up and interior ministry. Moreover, they added, there is as yet no legal hurdle in Baradar’s extradition especially after a Pakistan court had dismissed a petition seeking directives to the federal government not to extradite the arrested Taliban commanders either to Afghanistan or to the United States.

The Lahore High Court dismissed the case after the petitioner, Khalid Khawaja, a former official of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) was kidnapped and killed in April 2010 while trying to travel to the North Waziristan tribal agency on the Pak-Afghan border, which is a stronghold for a potent mix of Pakistani, Afghan Taliban, al-Qaeda and foreign militants. The court dismissed the case and observed that if anyone is interested in this case, he can file a fresh petition. Khalid Khawaja went missing with a former military officer and a journalist in March. A previously unknown group calling themselves Asian Tigers claimed to have kidnapped the group and killed Khawaja, who was found dead on April 30. According to Khawaja’s petition, Pakistan is also holding another Taliban commander, Mullah Abdul Kabir, and three others in addition to Baradar. The Afghan government has said Baradar was one of 42 people, including other Taliban figures, Kabul wants returned from Pakistan. Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has already appointed Abdul Rauf Khadim and Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor as his two deputies to replace Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

While the Pakistani crackdown against the Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) led by Mullah Mohammad Omar was seen by many inside the country as a major policy shift to abandon the former rulers of Afghanistan, there were many others who believed that the arrest of over half members of the Taliban Shura in a short span of six weeks following the holding of the January 28 London moot on Afghanistan was an attempt by the Pakistani military establishment to lock the stable doors and save the valued Taliban studs from being stolen by the Americans through. The Pakistani authorities had captured ten of the 18-member Quetta Shura Taliban (QST), including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Motasim Agha Jan, the son-in-law of Mullah Mohammad Omar and at least half a dozen shadow governors of the Afghan provinces since the beginning of February 2010.

The foreign offices sources in Islamabad said that the Pakistani authorities are working with the Afghan government to come up with a mutually acceptable arrangement for Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar’s extradition. The likely extradition would form part of efforts by Pakistan to help the Afghan government broker a peace deal with insurgents, an official said. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman Hamid Elmi also said in a recent radio interview and the interior ministers of both countries had held exclusive talks on the issue. “They are ready to solve this issue and hand (Baradar) over to Afghanistan”, he added. Taliban second-in-command Mullah Abdul Baradar’s arrest in a joint operation by Pakistani and American intelligence services in February from Karachi was described as a major coup in their counter-insurgency collaboration. Afghanistan had sharply reacted to the arrest, saying that it could scuttle Mr Karzai’s efforts for peace talks with Taliban.

Analysts believe that on being extradited to Afghanistan, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar may facilitate the Karzai government in reaching out to reconcilable Taliban leaders because of his extensive contacts in the militant group’s network. They said the extraditions would be consistent with the government’s policy of ensuring that the reconciliation process was Afghan-led and in accordance with the aspirations of Afghan government and people. Following an endorsement by a jirga in Kabul for peace talks with warring factions, Pakistan has intensified efforts for encouraging Afghan militant leaders to make peace with the Karzai government. Pakistan had earlier dived headlong into the Afghan reconciliation process by taking on the task of acting as a bridge between the Jalaluddin Haqqani network and the Karzai government in Kabul.

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