WASHINGTON - The refusal of Pakistani intelligence to turn over Taliban leader
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and as many as six other top Taliban figures to the
United States or the Afghan government has dealt a serious blow to the Barack
Obama administration's hopes for Pakistani cooperation in weakening the
It has left little doubt in the minds of US officials that the Pakistani
military intends to keep physical custody of the Taliban detainees in order to
exert influence on both the pace of peace negotiations
in Afghanistan and the ultimate terms of a settlement.
The Pakistani custody of Baradar and other Taliban leaders now appears to be
more of a safe haven for the Afghan insurgents than a normal detention. At
least some US officials already accept the likelihood that the Pakistanis will
allow the Taliban leaders to continue to maintain contact with other Taliban
officials while in custody.
The primary evidence of the Pakistani military leadership's intentions is the
Pakistani refusal to allow the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to question
Baradar in the days following his initial detention. The CIA was denied direct
access to Baradar for "about two weeks", according to US media reports.
That Pakistani refusal of access frustrated the CIA, which was eager to
interrogate Baradar about details of the Taliban's operations and finance.
During those crucial two weeks, US intelligence officials got no information
that would lead them to the rest of the Taliban leadership.
US intelligence officials doubt that they can get the truth from Baradar as
long he is in Pakistani military custody, according to Miller's report.
During that two-week period, CIA director Leon Panetta and other US officials
asked the Pakistani government and military leaders to transfer Baradar and
other Taliban leaders to the US detention center at Bagram air base in
Afghanistan to allow the US military to interrogate him, according to one
But Pakistani Interior Minister Rahman Malik flatly rejected that proposal on
February 19. He announced that Baradar and two other high-ranking Taliban
leaders arrested in February would not be handed over to the US, and that
Pakistani questioning of Baradar would continue to determine whether he had
violated Pakistani law.
Even if Baradar was found not to have broken the law, Malik said he would be
returned to "the country of origin, not to the USA".
The Obama administration then tried to pressure Pakistan to extradite the
Taliban leaders to Afghanistan. Federal Bureau of Investigation director Robert
Mueller, accompanied by Afghan Interior Minister Hanif Atmar, met secretly with
Interior Minister Malik last Wednesday and sought to get him to agree to
extradition to Afghanistan, as Anand Gopal reported in the Christian Science
Despite Afghan government statements that he had agreed to extradition to
Afghanistan, Malik was non-committal about extradition on Thursday. He promised
only that his government "will definitely look at" a formal request from the
Pakistan and Afghanistan were reported to be negotiating an agreement on the
return of prisoners, with the "mechanisms" for such a return still to be worked
Then on Friday, a provincial high court in Pakistan's Punjab province delivered
what appeared to be the final blow to the prospects for extradition of Baradar
and four other Taliban leaders to Afghanistan. The court blocked any
extradition by Pakistan of the Taliban leaders to any country until the court
could hear the issue of the detainees’ rights.
The Pakistani government could appeal the decision, but officials in Islamabad
told CBS News there were no plans for such an appeal at present.
Even before the court intervened in the issue, any hopes the Obama
administration and the US military might have had that Pakistan was prepared to
sell out its former Taliban allies had already waned.
The newspaper report in the US on Wednesday quoted a "top American official"
who had met with Pakistani army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kiani "recently" -
presumably Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who had met with Kiani on January 21
- who did not seem confident about the prospects of getting control of the
Taliban leaders. The official said, "We'll know soon whether this is
cooperation, or a stonewall and kind of rope-a-dope."
The official was referring to a number of past episodes in which the Pakistani
military was ostensibly supporting US policy in Afghanistan while it continued
to support the Taliban.
The same story last Wednesday quoted a "top American military officer in
Afghanistan" as speculating that the Pakistanis were intending to use Baradar
and their other Taliban prisoners to accelerate the timetable for a negotiated
settlement in Afghanistan. "I don't know if they're pushing anyone to the
table," said the unnamed general, "but they are certainly preparing the meal."
By suggesting that the Pakistanis were preparing for a negotiating process
involving Baradar, the "top military officer" was acknowledging that he and
other US officials expect Pakistan to allow Baradar to negotiate with the Hamid
Karzai government in Kabul while he is in custody.
That role would also require that Baradar be allowed to communicate with other
members of the Taliban leadership - both those in custody and those still
operating freely, including Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
Multiple reports from US sources have indicated that the original arrest of
Baradar was not the result of a raid specifically targeting the Taliban's
second-ranking leader but an "accident". Baradar's identity was discovered only
after the raid took place, the US officials said.
It now appears that Pakistan's military leadership quickly adopted a new
strategy for stepping up the timetable for Afghan peace negotiations and
ensuring that its interests were protected in those negotiations after it
realized that it had Baradar in custody.
That decision would account for the rapid detention of as many as six other
members of the Taliban leadership council that followed the apprehension of
Baradar, as Gopal reported in the Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday.
The plan evidently assumes that the Taliban leaders will have to consult
Pakistani intelligence officials while they negotiate with the Afghan
government and the United States.
The Obama administration had been counting on Pakistan to end its policy of
providing safe haven for Afghan Taliban leaders and fighters because, without
such a decision, US officials admit there is little or no possibility of
seriously weakening the Taliban.
That assumption impelled Obama to write a letter to Pakistani President Asif
Ali Zardari last November, warning bluntly that Pakistan's support for the
Taliban would no longer be tolerated, the Washington Post reported on February
The Pakistani government adjusted to the latest US pressure on its Taliban
policy by allowing the Central Intelligence Agency to expand its intelligence
operations in Pakistan aimed at intercepting Taliban and al-Qaeda messages to
Karachi. It also agreed to joint operations with the CIA to find high-level
But it is now clear that the increased intelligence cooperation with the CIA
did not mean Pakistan had abandoned its broader strategy of relying on the
Taliban as the best guarantee of Pakistani influence in Afghanistan.
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing
in US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book,
Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was
published in 2006.