Taliban commanders refuse to meet former leader in Pakistan -sources


* Baradar seen as key to Afghan peace process

* Moved to Peshawar safe house near Afghan border

* Some in Taliban sceptical about his role as peacemaker

By Mehreen Zahra-Malik and Jibran Ahmad

ISLAMABAD/PESHAWAR, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Taliban commandersrefused to meet their former chief in the Pakistani city ofPeshawar on Thursday because he was accompanied by Pakistanisecurity agents, dealing a blow to attempts to resume Afghanpeace talks, security and militant sources said.

Afghanistan and the United States believe Mullah Abdul GhaniBaradar, who has been held in Pakistan since 2010, holds the keyto stopping the war in Afghanistan because he is influentialenough to persuade his former comrades there to stop fighting.

Pakistan announced his release on Sept. 20 but Baradar, theformer Afghan Taliban second-in-command, is still in custody andwatched closely by his Pakistani handlers, an arrangement whichcould undermine his role as a peacemaker.

Confirming these suspicions, an Afghan Taliban commandersaid Taliban figures refused to come to Peshawar to meet himbecause he was accompanied by Pakistani security officials.

"Following his release, he spent some time in Karachi andnow arrived in Peshawar to hold meetings with senior members ofthe movement," the source told Reuters.

"Unfortunately, no one among senior Taliban leaders agreedto see him in Peshawar because security personnel are aroundhim."

It was unclear who Baradar wanted to meet and how long hewould stay in Peshawar, a volatile city hit by frequent attacksby the Pakistani Taliban, a militant group operatingindependently from their Afghan namesakes.

Two Pakistani security officials confirmed Baradar was inPeshawar for preliminary discussions about the peace process.

Officially talks have yet to start and there is still hopethat formal discussions on the future of Afghanistan will resumeonce Baradar has left Pakistan.

But many are sceptical, with the Taliban themselvessuspicious of a man seen as close to Pakistani authorities.

"He isn't a free man and that's why people are afraid ofmeeting him," said the Taliban official.

Baradar was once a close friend of the reclusive, one-eyedTaliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, who gave him his nom deguerre, "Baradar" or "brother".

He belongs to the same tribe as Afghan President HamidKarzai and has once reached out to the Kabul government with apeace proposal.

Pakistan plays an important role in the process because itbacked the Taliban's rise to power in Afghanistan in the 1990sand has access to insurgent leaders who fled to Pakistan afterthe Taliban were ousted from power in 2001.

Afghanistan, which suspects its neighbour of trying toinfluence its internal affairs, wants Baradar to be handed overand believes he cannot be considered released as long as he ison Pakistani soil.

Another Taliban official said Baradar might be sent toTurkey and then on to Saudi Arabia where the Taliban were alsoplanning to send a delegation for the annual haj pilgrimage.

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