Pakistan has released its highest-ranking Afghan Taliban prisoner in an effort to kick-start Afghanistan's struggling peace process - though some doubt he will make much difference.
The Afghan government has long demanded that Pakistan frees Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's former deputy leader who was arrested in a joint raid with the CIA in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi in 2010.
The United States is also keen for the Afghan government to strike a peace deal with the Taliban before it withdraws most of its combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. But the US had urged Pakistan not to release Baradar because of concerns he would return to the battlefield, officials said.
Baradar will remain in Pakistan after his release and will be provided with tight security, said Pakistani intelligence and security officials who confirmed that he was freed but did not provide any other details.
They did not say where he was being held, but did say he will be free to meet with anyone he chooses.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry announced earlier that Baradar would be released "to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process".
Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar, a member of the council tasked by the Afghan government to negotiate with the Taliban, praised Baradar's release, saying: "We are very much hopeful that Mullah Baradar can play an important role in the peace process."
Baradar, who is aged about 50, was one of the founding members of the Taliban along with the group's leader Mullah Omar. He served as a senior military leader and defence minister after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in 1996.
Pakistan has released at least 33 Taliban prisoners over the last year at the Afghan government's request in an attempt to boost peace negotiations between the insurgents and Kabul.
But there is no sign that the previous releases have helped peace talks, and some of the prisoners are believed to have returned to the fight against the Afghan government. The releases ended up causing friction with Kabul - and Washington - which were both frustrated that Pakistan was not monitoring the whereabouts and activities of the former inmates.