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Afghans to visit Pakistan for talks with ex-Taliban chief

KABUL (Reuters) - Senior Afghan officials will travel to Pakistan soon to speak to former Taliban No.2 leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar following a breakthrough in negotiations during a London summit, the Afghan presidential palace said on Wednesday.

Baradar is a long-time friend of reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and is seen by some in Afghanistan as the key to restarting peace talks.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is hosting Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in London this week for talks on the stalled peace process.

"The leaders of the three countries spoke about Pakistan's role in the peace process and it was agreed that the High Peace Council delegation would travel to Pakistan in the near future to meet Mullah Baradar," the palace said in a statement.

The Afghan High Peace Council was formed in 2010 by Karzai to pursue a negotiated peace with the Afghan Taliban who have been leading an insurgency since being ousted from power by the Americans in 2001.

Baradar was the insurgent group's deputy leader and one of their most influential commanders until being arrested in Pakistan in 2010. Pakistan announced his release last month but Baradar remains in the country under close Pakistani supervision.

Afghanistan has called for Baradar's release for years. His captivity in Pakistan has been a source of tension as anxiety grows ahead of a planned withdrawal of most U.S.-led troops from Afghanistan at the end of next year.

(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi, Writing by Dylan Welch; Editing by Maria Golovnina and Nick Macfie)

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