Islamabad: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Afghan Taliban, was appointed the leader of its political office in Qatar to strengthen the militant group’s hand in peace talks with the United States as efforts continue to find a resolution to the conflict, media reports said.
Baradar, who was released from a prison in Pakistan in October last year, has been authorized to lead the political team and take decisions, Pakistan Today reported.
The Taliban issued a statement to announce Baradar’s appointment and a reshuffle in their team to put senior leaders into key positions as the talks with US officials gained momentum.
“This step has been taken to strengthen and properly handle the ongoing negotiations process with the United States,” the Taliban said in a statement.
The move comes as US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s meeting with the Taliban representatives, which was originally due to run over two days, entered its fourth day on Thursday.
“Baradar will soon fly to Qatar. He has been given the new position because the US wanted the senior Taliban leadership to participate in peace talks,” a senior Taliban official said, the daily reported.
Baradar, who coordinated the insurgent group’s military operations in southern Afghanistan, was arrested in 2010 by a team from Pakistan’s military-controlled intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, and the US’ Central Intelligence Agency.
His release, according to security experts, was part of high-level negotiations led by Khalilzad with the Taliban.
The US key negotiator has held at least four meetings with the Taliban representatives. But there has been no let-up in the violence.
Tolo News, quoting sources familiar with the Qatar talks, said the US and Taliban have inched closer towards sealing an agreement on some issues, including discussions on a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and a ceasefire.
It also quoted sources close to the Taliban as saying that they will not allow any group to stage attacks against other nations from Afghan territory.
Newly appointed Baradar will also hold the additional post of the third deputy of Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, the leader of Taliban, and work with Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, a veteran Taliban official who has been running the group’s political office in Qatar since 2015 and has participated in the latest rounds of peace talks.