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Pakistani forces have captured Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Kabir, a member of the central leadership and a top military commander, according to media. But while Pakistan's crackdown on the Taliban leadership continues, experts are divided as to its impact.
The New York Times reports that according to a Pakistani intelligence official, Mr. Kabir was seized several days ago in Nowshera, a city in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan (click here to see a map). Kabir is a member of the Quetta Shura, the Taliban's ruling circle that reports to Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar.
Mullah Kabir is a longtime associate of Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s founder. He was the governor of Nangarhar Province, in eastern Afghanistan, when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Since then, he has overseen military operations in eastern Afghanistan, including those in Kunar, Nangarhar, Nuristan and Laghman Provinces.
The immediate impact of Mullah Kabir’s arrest remains to be seen. The Quetta Shura is thought to have roughly 20 people. A number have been killed or captured over the years, but the shura, and the Taliban, have gone on.
CNN also received word from Pakistani officials that Kabir had been arrested, though a Taliban spokesman denied it. And The Washington Post writes that Kabir may have been captured as long ago as mid-January, according to a Nowshera official.
Kabir's arrest, which US authorities could not confirm, would be just the latest in a series of Taliban officials captured by Pakistan in recent days. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's reported second in command, was seized in Karachi earlier this month, along with two Taliban "shadow governors," Mullah Abdul Salam and Mullah Mir Mohammad, from northern Afghanistan. The New York Times adds that the Pakistani official who reported Kabir's arrest also confirmed the arrest of a third shadow governor, Mullah Mohammed Yunis.
The Times writes that the arrests "appeared to mark a shift in Pakistani behavior. Although the motive remains unclear, the change is significant."
“This indicates Baradar was not a one off or an accident but a turning point in Pakistan’s policy toward the Taliban,” said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow of Brookings Institution and a former CIA official. “We still need to see how far it goes, but for [Barack] Obama and NATO this is the best possible news. If the safe haven is closing then the Taliban are in trouble.”
Some commentators are sounding a more pessimistic tone, however. The Boston Globe, in an editorial about the recent capture of Mr. Baradar, warns that "there is another, less encouraging explanation of why Pakistan’s shadowy Inter-Services Intelligence Agency suddenly decided to seize the Taliban’s number-two leader, after hosting him for years while he directed the Taliban movement officially headed by Mullah Omar."
Pakistani leaders know that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been seeking reconciliation talks with the Taliban and that Baradar approved contacts between Taliban leaders and Karzai’s brother. An agreement between the Taliban and the Karzai government could deprive Pakistan of influence in next-door Afghanistan. That prospect disturbs Pakistani leaders, who have long tried to maximize their power in Afghanistan to keep it from linking up with Pakistan’s rival, India.
And in a commentary for National Review Online, Alex Alexiev doubts that Mr. Kabir's capture will have much practical effect in the war in Afghanistan. "It is not at all clear that somebody hiding out in a dingy apartment in Karachi is fully aware of what’s going on on the ground in Afghanistan," he writes.
And The Globe and Mail reports that some analysts worry that the spate of recent arrests might undermine Kabul's peace overtures to the Taliban by leaving the Taliban more firmly in the hands of radicals.
[Waliullah Rahmani, executive director of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies, said] “for the Afghan government, which wants some effective peacemakers within the insurgency, I don't think that, for example, Baradar's arrest has been productive, based on their own thinking. … It shows that many [Taliban-friendly] elements within the Pakistani government and Quetta shura never wanted Baradar to decide the destiny of insurgents in Afghanistan.”
Some experts now warn the arrests of Mullah Baradar and Maulavi Kabir push the Taliban further from reconciliation with the Afghan government.
“The lesson to all of this – the bumper sticker – is that this has really left the hard core in control of the Taliban. And that has all kinds of implications with reconciliation,” said Thomas Johnson, director of the program for culture and conflict studies at California's Naval Postgraduate School.