Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar capture: Triumph of Pakistan-US cooperation?
The announcement that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghanistan Taliban's military chief, was arrested underscores increasing US-Pakistan intelligence cooperation, targeting Taliban leaders inside Pakistan for arrest and assassination.
New Delhi; and Islamabad, Pakistan
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Agents from the two countries nabbed Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in the Pakistani commercial capital of Karachi 10 days ago. News of his arrest broke Monday night. Mr. Baradar is said to be the Taliban's No. 2, working underneath Mullah Omar as the organization's top military commander for southern Afghanistan
In the past, Pakistan has rarely targeted Afghan Taliban leaders operating within its borders. Instead, Islamabad has focused on shutting down the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a faction that is at war with the Pakistani government.
But US-Pakistan relations have improved of late, with Pakistan feeding intelligence to the US drone assassination program operating inside the country and the US helping Pakistan kill its enemies in return.
A US drone strike in August smote Pakistan's chief enemy, former TTP chief Baitullah Mehsud. The arrest of Baradar appears to be reciprocal -- a sort of reward to the US for its help in killing Mr. Mehsud.
"There is more intelligence sharing now than at any point in time in the last seven or eight years," says Rifaat Hussain, chairman of the department of defense and strategic studies at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. "After Baitullah Mehsud's killing it became quite clear that the Americans were willing to hit the TTP targets. Now the expectation was that the Afghan Taliban would be next."
A Taliban spokesman, speaking to the Associated Press, denied Baradar had been captured, saying this was American propaganda to demoralize Taliban fighters in Marjah, Afghanistan. Over the weekend, the US and its Afghan allies launched their largest joint operation since 2001 against the Taliban stronghold.
Does it matter?
Analysts expressed some doubts that this will have a major impact on the Afghan battlefields. Such skepticism arises from the parade of Al Qaeda No. 2's and TTP chiefs who have been killed or captured over the years in Pakistan -- only to see them quickly replaced and the organizations spring back.
Stratfor, a Texas-based intelligence consulting firm, wrote: "It is unlikely that a single individual would be the umbilical cord between the leadership council and the military commanders in the field, particularly a guerrilla force such as the Taliban." The significance of the event, Stratfor argued, is that it points to the US and Pakistan "cooperating very closely."
But, in fact, what's new is who's being targeted, not the fact of CIA involvement on Pakistani soil. Analysts in Pakistan say the Afghanistan Taliban have been put on notice that they will no longer enjoy relative freedom for their operatives inside Pakistan so long as they keep their guns focused on Afghanistan.