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What's the Quetta Shura Taliban and why does it matter?

Pakistani officials arrested half the Afghan Taliban leadership – 7 of 15 members of the Quetta Shura Taliban - including the Taliban commander in charge of stopping the US troop surge in southern Afghanistan. What is the Quetta Shura and why might these arrests be critical to the war in Afghanistan?

By Staff writer / February 24, 2010

The arrest of half the Afghan Taliban leadership – 7 of 15 members of the Quetta Shura – in Pakistan may be indicative of a kind of pincer movement. While a US led coalition takes on Quetta Shura Taliban ground troops in southern Afghanistan, Pakistani authorities are sweeping up key leaders in Pakistan.

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Anand Gopal broke the story of the scale of the arrests earlier today, and he included that Pakistan had captured Mullah Abdul Qayoum Zakir - you can read the story here.

But perhaps we failed to sufficiently highlight how important Mullah Zakir is to the fight in southern Afghanistan.

"He's the Taliban's military commander in southern Afghanistan. He's in charge of heading off the American surge in the south. If it's true that he's been captured, his removal from the battlefield is serious" says Jeffrey Dressler at the Institute for the Study of War.

Zakir has also been the key liaison between the Quetta Shura Taliban and the other Taliban groups and Al Qaeda, says Dressler. "He's the guy that the QST sent to high-level meetings. He's a jihadist with Guantánamo credentials," he says.

But Dressler is also skeptical that Zakir has been captured. "I'm shocked that the Pakistanis haven't made big news with this," he says.

What's the Quetta Shura?

The Quetta Shura is one of three key Taliban groups, as the Long War Journal noted recently: The Quetta Shura, the Haqqani Network, and the forces of Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin.

The Monitor's own look at some of these Taliban groups can be found here.

While these Taliban groups sometimes coordinate their efforts, in southern Afghanistan – especially in the Helmand River valley – the primary threat to security is the Quetta Shura Taliban (QST).

Here's how Dressler and Carl Forsberg at the Institute for the Study of War describe the QST (a pdf of their January report on the QST can be downloaded here):

The Quetta Shura Taliban, whose operations have systematically spread from southern Afghanistan to the west and north of the country, is by far the most active enemy group in Afghanistan. Virtually all enemy groups operating in the country have sworn allegiance (in varying degrees) to the Taliban’s leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar.

The senior leadership in Quetta … provides direction, guidance.The Quetta-based senior leaders also adjust the campaign as it unfolds if major changes in mission or resources are required. For example, senior leaders in Quetta have issued such requests for reinforcements when coalition and Afghan forces launch operations into critical enemy terrain. This type of guidance allows the Quetta-based leadership to identify its priorities to Afghan-based and sometimes is sues direct orders to the senior commanders in the south.


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