Pakistan delivers a Taliban treat
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
ISLAMABAD - With the Pakistan military to a large degree setting the rules of
the game with Washington for reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban, Mullah
Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's supreme commander in Afghanistan, has become
the army's first major delivery for the United States' end game in Afghanistan.
Baradar is reported to have been arrested several days ago in the southern port
city of Karachi in a raid by Pakistani and US intelligence officials. He is now
being interrogated by these officials, according to reports.
The White House, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon have made no
However, a senior Taliban leader, speaking to Asia Times Online
on the condition of anonymity, said, "This is not the first time that such a
claim has been made about his arrest. Only four days ago, he was in contact
Pakistani security officials have confirmed with ATol, also on the condition of
anonymity, that Baradar was arrested in Baldia Town, Karachi.
Mullah Baradar has represented Taliban leader Mullah Omar in all peace talks
with Washington, mediated by Saudi Arabia, in the past two years, and the idea
of his arrest appears to be to split the Taliban cadre operating in
southwestern Afghanistan. This, it is hoped, will isolate Mullah Omar and put
pressure on him to take part in negotiations. Mullah Omar has steadfastly
claimed that he will not enter into any talks until all foreign troops leave
This raises a difficult issue. Mullah Baradar is the only prominent Populzai
(Durrani) tribe member in the predominantly Ghalzai Taliban cadre (rival tribes
for centuries). If he agrees to cooperate with Pakistan and the US, it is by no
means certain he will be able to exert any pressure on Taliban commanders in
his individual capacity, that is, without Mullah Omar's backing.
At home in Karachi
Every winter over the past years, Mullah Baradar, along with other Taliban
leaders and commanders, stayed in Lea Market in southern Karachi, from where
they visited posher areas in Gulshan-e-Iqbal in eastern Karachi to collect
donations from Islamic seminaries.
Inter-Services Intelligence was aware of their movements but never intercepted
them because they were not considered a threat to the internal security of the
country. The military did not want to mess with them as it was convinced that
once foreign forces finally withdrew from Afghanistan, these Taliban would in
one way or another be a part of the political set-up.
Now, though, Pakistan's relationship with Washington has evolved (see
Pakistan's military sets Afghan terms Asia Times Online, February 9,
2010), and Pakistan simply caught the biggest fish around to help Washington
start direct talks with the Taliban.
Nonetheless, this might to some extent be a case of smoke and mirrors as all
such previous exercises have failed. As a result of the Taliban's strict code,
once a powerful commander is apprehended, his influence is reduced to zero. A
prime example of this occurred in 2003, when Mullah Abdul Razzaq, a former
Taliban minister, was arrested in Pakistan. (See
US turns to the Taliban Asia Times Online, June 14, 2003.) The
authorities tried to use him to set up a channel of communication with the
Taliban, but it was a non-starter has he no longer had clout. Razzaq was freed
and subsequently rejoined the Taliban.
A former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Zaeef, is another example. The
Americans have tried their best to use Zaeef in the reconciliation process, but
Mullah Baradar's arrest could bring some limited benefits as he might divulge
the whereabouts of some Taliban leaders, such as Mullah Hasan Rahmani and
Mullah Jalil, who used to stay with him in Karachi.
However, getting any information on Mullah Omar will be difficult as he moves
around a lot. Not even the Pakistan army, even though it is close to the US,
will be so generous as to allow the arrest of Mullah Omar and thereby lose its
biggest bargaining chip.
The notion of mounting pressure on Mullah Omar through Mullah Baradar could
also backfire in that it might push Mullah Omar further towards al-Qaeda, which
has raised impressive militias in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province,
especially in Mohmand and Bajaur tribal agencies and North Waziristan.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org