LONDON, Oct. 31 (UPI) -- A decision clearing the way for Afghan officials to meet a top Taliban deputy in Pakistan has raised hopes of advancing Afghanistan's peace process effort.
A delegation from the Afghan High Peace Council, involved in efforts to start peace talks with the Taliban, will soon visit Pakistan to meet with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai announced.
The announcement came after the meeting of Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in London hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron. The three at their trilateral meeting "reaffirmed their continuing commitment" to the Afghan-led peace process, a spokesman for Cameron said.
Baradar, once the No. 2 leader of the Afghan Taliban, was arrested in 2010 by Pakistani authorities in their port city of Karachi. Recently, Pakistan announced they were freeing their prisoner as the Karzai government had been pressing for his release. However, the whereabouts of Mullah Baradar are not known.
Karzai's government has maintained Pakistan's help is essential to bring the Afghan Taliban to the peace process. However, Pakistan has denied it has any control over the militant group. The Taliban has so far refused to engage with the Karzai government.
Afghanistan has been seeking access to Baradar as he is seen as someone who can convince Taliban leaders to take part in peace talks.
Tariq Fatemi, special assistant to Prime Minister Sharif on foreign affairs, told reporters in Islamabad Pakistan has no objection to a meeting between Afghan officials and Baradar, the Voice of America reported. He said Baradar was released at the request of Karzai when he visited Islamabad in August.
"We are committed to promoting the peace process in Afghanistan. This peace process should be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led," Fatemi said. "We will play a supporting role because we recognize that peace and stability in Afghanistan is essential for peace and stability in Pakistan and we want to live as good neighbors."
Fatemi said Baradar has been provided enhanced security "to ensure his personal safety but he is a free man and can go anywhere he wants to." However, he added the former Taliban commander "will neither be handed over to Afghanistan nor will he be forced to move from one place to another."
The London trilateral meeting was important since the United States and NATO forces are scheduled to end their combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of next year. Any improvement in Afghanistan-Pakistan ties should ease concerns about violence and instability escalating in the already tense region after the coalition forces leave.
The New York Times said Baradar's arrest was the result of a joint raid by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate.
It was not clear when or where the meeting between Afghan officials and Baradar would take place.
The VOA said Pakistan, under pressure from Afghan and U.S. officials, also has released more than three dozen Afghan Taliban insurgents to further the peace process.
It quoted U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham as saying: "I don't have an independent view about Mullah Baradar. But the High Peace Council has felt for some time that he could play an important role. So we are certainly supportive of the effort to try."