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Taliban appoints new political leader amid peace talks with US

Zalmay Khalilzad at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
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This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A co-founder of the Afghan Taliban who was released from detention by Pakistan last year has been appointed as the leader of the militant group’s political office in Qatar.

The move comes as the talks with the United States on a potential deal to bring an end to Afghanistan’s 17-year conflict gain momentum.

The Taliban announced Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar’s appointment in a statement on January 24, saying the move was taken to “strengthen and properly handle the ongoing negotiations process with the United States.”

Baradar, who was released from a Pakistani prison in October last year, has been authorized to lead the political team and take decisions, the Reuters news agency quoted two Taliban sources in Afghanistan as saying.

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He will also hold the post of third deputy to Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.

The United States said on January 22 that it had resumed talks with the militants in Qatar, where special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was meeting Taliban representatives.

The discussions entered their fourth day on January 24 and it was not clear whether they were to continue on January 25, or how soon Baradar could join the talks.

A senior Taliban official told Reuters that Baradar “will soon fly to Qatar.”

“He has been given the new position because the U.S. wanted senior Taliban leadership to participate in peace talks,” the official added.

Khalilzad spent the weekend in Pakistan where he held talks with Prime Minister Imran Khan as part of a regional tour that saw the envoy shuttling between India, China, and Afghanistan.

The U.S. envoy has held at least four meetings with the Taliban representatives, but there has been no letup in the violence so far.

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Baradar served as the Taliban’s second-in-command under Mullah Omar and coordinated the group’s military operations in southern Afghanistan before his arrest in the Pakistani city of Karachi in 2010.

His release was part of high-level negotiations, led by Khalilzad, with the Taliban, according to reports.

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