Pakistan has released former Taliban second-in-command Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

The United States and Afghanistan have long pressed Pakistan to free Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a figure they believe could tempt moderate Taliban leaders to come to the negotiating table as US-led troops prepare to leave Afghanistan at the end of next year.

Pakistan's foreign ministry announced late yesterday he would be released a day later, and on yesterday, Pakistani television confirmed he had been set free.

There was no official confirmation.

Mr Baradar's fate is at the heart of Afghanistan's efforts to kick-start the stalled peace process as most NATO combat troops prepare to pull out of Afghanistan and anxiety grows over the country's security.

Mr Baradar was once a close friend of the reclusive Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, who gave him his nom de guerre, "Baradar" or "brother".

Even before his detention, Mr Baradar was known as a pragmatic and level-headed operator who had once reached out to Kabul to seek a peace settlement, according to Afghan officials.

But critics say his years in Pakistani detention may have eroded his sway over the fast-evolving insurgency.

It is also not clear where he would travel to following his release.

Sources in Pakistan have said he could be sent to Turkey or Saudi Arabia to help kick start peace talks with Taliban officials after the breakdown of the Doha round of talks.