17 Feb 2010

Taliban commander's arrest may have strengthened Pakistan's hand

Pakistan’s military finally admit Taliban commander Mullah Baradar has been captuted, but as Nick Paton Walsh blogs, his arrest could help the country’s ISI intelligence service regain control over negotiations over Afghanistan.

The Pakistani military have, finally, confirmed what was yesterday implied across the world, that the Taliban’s number two commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, has been arrested.

It’s basically a text message from the ISPR – the military’s press wing. It said: “At the conclusion of detailed identification procedure, it has been confirmed that one of the persons arrested happens to be Mullah Baradar.”

The other people arrested, it appears, were travelling in a car with Mullah Baradar on the outskirts of Karachi, the southern port city.

This should, in theory, end the swirl of rumours as to where Baradar is, but the questions still are growing.

Why was he arrested? Consensus seems keen to show that Baradar was arrested as the Pakistani military have finally become convinced that he and the Afghan Taliban were becoming an existential threat to Pakistan itself. Some point to the recent vista of US Senator John Kerry as being key to finally convincing them of that.

But another – more engaging – theory was posited by the New York Times, suggesting that, given Baradar’s apparent role as a Taliban commander open to engagement with NATO over peace talks, the Pakistani security services (the ISI) wanted him out of the picture.

That more cynical interpretation has one logical outcome: without Baradar in circulation, the ISI are again the only real conduit between NATO and their enemy and can hence heavily influence the outcome of any peace talks.

Is he still in Pakistani custody? It’s impossible to really know the answer to that, but you can be sure that US officials will be crawling all over his interrogation.

They’ve not had an Afghan high value target like this alive and in their reach, as far as we know, since they invaded in 2001.