Pakistan to release senior Taliban commander Saturday

Pakistan will release on Saturday its most senior Afghan Taliban detainee, Abdul Ghani Baradar, a one-time military chief often described as the insurgents' former second-in-command.

"In order to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process, the detained Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, would be released tomorrow," Pakistan's foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday.

The Afghan government has long demanded that Islamabad free Baradar, whose arrest in January 2010 saw Pakistan accused of sabotaging initiatives to bring peace in war-torn Afghanistan.

Sartaj Aziz, main adviser to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on national security and foreign affairs, had told AFP on Monday that Baradar "will be released this week, possibly in a day or two".

His release would bring to 34 the number of Taliban detainees that Pakistan has freed since last year, in what Afghan officials hope will encourage peace talks with Taliban insurgents.

Aziz, had said that Baradar would not be handed over to Kabul.

"It is at his (Baradar's) discretion whether he chooses to live here or anywhere of his own choice," Aziz said.

Baradar was arrested in Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi, reportedly in a secret raid by CIA and Pakistani agents, an operation that was described as a huge blow to the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan until a US-led invasion in 2001.

At the time of his arrest Baradar was reported to have been the Taliban's second-in-command.

There has been little evidence that the release of Taliban detainees has had a positive effect on the stalled peace negotiations, however, and several prisoners are understood to have returned to the battlefield.

Baradar's influence has also been debated after his years away from the fight.

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