Afghan officials in Pakistan for Taliban peace talks: sources

ISLAMABAD/KABUL Wed Nov 20, 2013 10:56am EST

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a news conference in Kabul December 8, 2012. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a news conference in Kabul December 8, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Mohammad Ismail

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ISLAMABAD/KABUL (Reuters) - Senior Afghan officials arrived in Pakistan to initiate peace talks with the Afghan Taliban following a breakthrough in negotiations during last month's summit in Britain, officials from both countries said on Wednesday.

The delegation was in Pakistan to meet former Taliban No.2 Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a man seen by Kabul as the key to restarting peace talks with the Taliban, said a spokesman for Afghanistan's High Peace Council, Mohammed Anwar Eshaaqzai.

Eshaaqzai was unable to say if the group had already met Baradar or would do so in coming days.

Baradar has been held in an undisclosed location in Pakistan since Islamabad announced in September that it would release him in order to facilitate the Afghan peace process.

"The Afghan peace council has arrived in Islamabad accompanied by some other foreign and interior ministry officials," a Pakistani official with knowledge of the peace talks told Reuters.

"This is a followup of what was decided in London and they will meet officials in the ministries of interior and foreign," the official said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron hosted Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in London last month to discuss ways to kickstart the stalled process.

Karzai formed the Afghan High Peace Council in 2010 to pursue a negotiated peace with the Taliban, who have been leading an insurgency since being ousted from power by U.S.-led forces in 2001.

Baradar is a long-time friend of the reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and Afghanistan believes he is still powerful enough to persuade the insurgents to lay down their weapons and make peace.

He was the Taliban's deputy leader and one of their most influential commanders until he was arrested in Pakistan in 2010. Pakistan announced his release last month but Baradar remains in the country under close supervision.

Afghanistan has called for Baradar's release for years. His captivity in Pakistan has been a source of tension as anxiety grows ahead of the withdrawal of most U.S.-led troops from Afghanistan, planned for the end of next year.

(Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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