Pakistan to consider releasing former Taliban No.2: officials

KABUL Thu Nov 15, 2012 9:59am EST

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KABUL (Reuters) - Pakistan will consider freeing former Afghan Taliban second-in-command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, if current releases of lower level members help to advance peace efforts, officials from both countries told Reuters on Thursday.

"After releasing 13 Taliban, Pakistan promised to free Mullah Baradar if these releases prove effective in peace negotiations," said a senior Afghan official close to talks between Islamabad and Kabul.

Afghanistan has been pushing Pakistan to release Afghan Taliban captives who could provide leverage in any peace talks.

Pakistan has released mid-level Taliban prisoners over the last two days.

But Pakistan is under growing pressure to free senior Taliban figures like Baradar, as most NATO combat troops pull out by the end of 2014.

Afghan officials believe he may command enough respect to persuade the Taliban to engage in talks with the Kabul government.

Asked if Baradar would also be freed, a senior Pakistani foreign ministry official said that could happen if the release of the mid-level Taliban figures "produced results".

(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi in KABUL and Mehreen Zahra-Malik in ISLAMABAD; Writing by Michael Georgy)

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