By Karin Brulliard
Friday, February 26, 2010; A15
KABUL -- The Afghan government said Thursday that Pakistani authorities have agreed to hand over several suspected insurgents whom Pakistan has taken into custody, including the Taliban's No. 2 commander.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a member of the Taliban's high leadership council, and others in custody will be extradited under a prisoner-exchange agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Afghan officials said. Lawyers in both countries are negotiating the deal and prisoner lists are being drawn up, officials said.
The prisoner swap would give Afghanistan access to several top Taliban leaders who could provide a treasure trove of information about the insurgency that U.S. troops are battling in southern Afghanistan. Once the prisoners are in Afghan custody, U.S. officials would probably be able to interrogate them.
"We asked the Pakistani authorities to hand over all Afghan prisoners that have been arrested by Pakistan, including Mullah Baradar," Hamid Elmi, deputy spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said in an interview. "They agreed, but they are working on the mechanisms -- how to handle it, how it will happen."
The agreement represented the latest twist in Pakistan's shifting approach to the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan has rarely helped Afghanistan target Taliban fighters. Elements of Pakistan's security establishment, in fact, have long nurtured or turned a blind eye to Afghan insurgents who have found sanctuary in Pakistan. Although Pakistan's army has launched offensives against its domestic Taliban offshoot, it has been reluctant to battle those fighters who stage attacks across the border.
But a recent string of arrests, including the U.S.-Pakistani capture of Baradar in the southern port city of Karachi, seems to mark a change. In addition to Baradar, the Taliban's military commander, Pakistani authorities have confirmed the recent capture of two Taliban "shadow governors," or provincial leaders.
Other Taliban leaders are rumored to be in Pakistani custody, but Islamabad has not confirmed their arrests. Another Karzai spokesman said Thursday that one on that list, Mullah Abdul Kabir, a top commander in eastern Afghanistan, has been detained, Reuters reported.
Zamaray Bashari, spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry, said it had not been determined when the handovers would happen, or how many prisoners from each country would be extradited. But he called the swap "comprehensive," meaning it would include recently captured prisoners, such as Baradar, as well as those who might have been in custody for years.
Pakistani officials could not be reached to comment. But a foreign ministry official said it "has been decided" that Baradar will be handed over to Afghanistan after Pakistan completes a probe into whether he committed crimes on Pakistani soil. That is likely to happen within days, the official said.
Pakistan is eager to gain custody of several militants who have been involved in a separatist insurgency in the western province of Baluchistan and are now in Afghanistan, the official said.
Special correspondents Shaiq Hussain in Islamabad and Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.