Why arrest of Taliban No. 2 could undercut peace talks
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was the Taliban's operational leader. U.N. officials say that Mullah Baradar facilitated a meeting last month in Dubai between mid-level Taliban commanders and Kai Eide, a top U.N. official in Kabul.
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Pakistani analysts said Baradar's capture suggested either that Islamabad had abandoned its attempt to promote peace talks or the Taliban number two had fallen afoul of the Pakistani authorities. Analysts said Baradar was the most likely point of contact for any future talks.Skip to next paragraph
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"This is inexplicable. Pakistan has destroyed its own credentials as a mediator between Taliban and Americans. And the trust that might have existed between Taliban and Pakistan is shattered completely," said Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistani ambassador to Kabul after the overthrow of the Taliban.
He added: "Mullah Baradar was talking peace. ... For the time being, there are no prospects for talks. I think it's now going to be a fight to the bitter end."
With his arrest, reaching Taliban officials for contacts is likely to become more difficult. Karzai and Baradar come from the same Popolzai tribe.
"If they want to talk to the Taliban he (Baradar) was the known person, the known address. But what Pakistan's done is disappear the address for the Taliban. No Taliban will show themselves now. For a long time, they'll disappear again," Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan and a former prisoner at Guantanamo, told McClatchy.
Some think that Baradar, in making the talks with Eide possible, may have acted without the knowledge or support of his Pakistani hosts and was freelancing on the peace talks, which meant that Islamabad feared it had lost control of the negotiations.
Up till now, the U.S. has charged that Pakistan secretly supported the Taliban through its Inter-Services Intelligence agency and gave sanctuary to its leadership, despite officially turning its back on the Islamic extremist movement after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
As the insurgency spiraled in Afghanistan, Pakistan came under severe and increasing pressure from Washington to crack down on the Taliban commanders who were on its soil. Baradar's arrest was the first firm indication that Islamabad now may be cooperating.
There were suggestions that fellow Taliban who were unhappy with Baradar's openness to peace talks may have betrayed him.
The exact circumstances of his capture remain unclear. Pakistan's interior minister, Rehman Malik, denied Tuesday that the country would allow American agents to take part in an operation on its soil.
A senior Taliban commander in southern Afghanistan, Akhtar Mohammad, confirmed the arrest to McClatchy but disputed the location.
"I agree he is arrested, in Helmand," Mohammad said by telephone. "He was arrested by NATO forces in Marjah."
Baradar's capture came as U.S.-led forces are pressing the biggest offensive since 2001 against the Taliban in the southern province of Helmand, centered on the town of Marjah.
The dislocation in the Taliban's leadership could throw them into disarray.
Many analysts think that the leadership of the Afghan Taliban shifted some time ago from Quetta, a remote western Pakistani city close to the border with Afghanistan, to Karachi, in part to avoid the U.S. drone aircraft that target militants in Pakistan's tribal belt.
There is a huge population of ethnic Pashtuns in Karachi — some 3 million, largely in crowded ghettoes — the same ethnic group that makes up most of the Taliban, making it easy for the insurgents to melt into their surroundings.
The Taliban have shown themselves to be resilient, with arrested or killed battlefield commanders and shura members replaced quickly.
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