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Baradur’s Arrest and the Quid Pro Quo

Posted by on February 16th, 2010

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By Steve Hynd

Gregg gave us some excellent ”first thoughts” last night about the possible consequences of the arrest of Mullah Baradur, the Quetta Shura Taliban’s military chief and “number two”. But I want to focus today on what the arrest might mean for Pakistan’s role in the War on (Some) Terror, its relationships with the U.S.and with the Afghan Taliban’s factions.

As Gregg wrote, deciding that this means the Pakistani safe haven for the Quetta Shura is no longer so safe and Pakistan has finally picked the American side is very premature. Those who think so are drinking the Pentagon happy juice a little too often – when all the indications are that the ISI and General Kayani have succeeded in playing Mullen et al. like fish for years now. Jason Burke, in the Guardian, gets to the crux of Pakistan’s national interests:

Since the first major cities started falling to western and opposition Afghan forces in November 2001, the Pakistanis have been fundamentally committed to rolling back what they see as undue western and Indian influence in Afghanistan by any means possible, and to ensuring they are well-positioned for an eventual departure of western forces. Both those goals remain unchanged.

Those goals remained unchanged even when Richard Armitage threatened to “bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age” if it didn’t co-operate with America’s war – but that threat set up the dynamic that has persisted ever since, where Pakistan makes only enough moves to convince America to keep the pipeline of weapons and money flowing, while otherwise looking to its own interests. With Pakistan already firmly in China’s orbit both economically and militarily, there’s not a lot America can do to change that dynamic short of carrying through on Armitage’s threat and Pakistan’s leaders know it. American aid and arms are the icing on their cake, and much of that aid ends up in the elite’s own pockets.

So Pakistan has co-operated in this arrest for its own reasons. At first, I thought that perhaps those reasons had to do with the estimated 25,000 or so “graduates” of Taliban training who are believed to live in the city of Karachi. The TTP, the Pakistani Taliban, have been getting more active there of late too and one of the few ways the Quetta Taliban could enrage the ISI to the point of cutting their strings would be co-operation with the TTP there. But the Quetta Taliban have been strong in Karachi all along – that figure of 25,000 loyalists dates from 2005 – and it hasn’t bothered the ISI too much before now. It’s possible the equation has changed drastically but in the light of dawn I don’t think so.

Thus, as Joshua Foust writes, “We paid a price for this, keep an eye out for what it might be.” I’ve a feeling that the price was America’s acceptance of the Quetta Taliban as part of Afghanistan’s government again – and not as underdogs to Hamid Karzai but as equal partners. Differences between Karzai and Washington over what “reconcilliation” means have already caused tensions and Pakistan has a clear interest in the matter being decided Karzai’s way. Arif Rafiq suggests that the arrest is designed to force Omar to the negotiating table early, again something Pakistan sees as in its best interests. It’s not that Pakistan has finally decided to wholeheartedly join America’s war, it’s that Afghanistan’s Karzai and America have gradually moved towards a point where Pakistan can have its cake and eat it too.

Kayani’s overtures to the Karzai government possibly contained the following “implicit message” to the Afghan Taliban: “you are not our only option, so don’t take us for granted.”  And so the arrest of Baradar is perhaps part of an attempt by the Pakistan Army to induce behavioral change on the part of the Afghan Taliban, and particularly its obstinate leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar.  These desired changes likely include: giving up maximalist goals, such as the re-establishment of an emirate; and clear movement toward the bargaining table with Karzai and away from al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.  And equally important, as Afghans have engaged in a multitude of secret peace talks in the region, the Pakistan Army would like to ensure that it, to the exclusion of India, is part of the glue that holds together any power sharing arrangement in Kabul.  In other words, it doesn’t want the Afghans to make their own peace and shut Pakistan out of the process.  If Pakistan were excluded, then what was the trouble of the past eight years for?

The arrest of Baradar helps bring U.S. and Pakistan policy toward Afghanistan in closer alignment.  The Pakistan Army is willing to work with Afghan moderates and, at the same time, retains significant leverage over the country’s insurgents.  It has the capacity and willingness to engage, if not manage, a broad spectrum of Afghanistan’s major Pashtun actors — both “good” and “bad.”  One would imagine that Pakistani diplomatic, military, and political officials are also engaging Afghan Tajiks and Uzbeks, particularly ex-mujahideen.

With its contacts, geographic location, and new-found “responsible” approach, it’s Pakistan — not Iran, India, or Russia — that is positioned to play the role of stability guarantor in a post-American Afghanistan, especially as it pertains to U.S. interests.

There’ll probably be no “suing for peace” from Omar Mullah even so - perhaps quite the reverse. Karzai has already come to the key realization that it doesn’t matter to reconcilliation per se which side has the military upper hand, it only matters for who gets the best side of any deal. And that any deal which stops the fighting is better for Afghans than no deal at all.

One last cautionary word. All of this is predicated on the supposition that Baradur stays detained and that his arrest wasn’t just the old run of Pakistani security kabuki. The last time a Quetta Shura military chief was detained by Pakistan was in 2007, just as Dick Cheney arrived to pressure Pakistan to “do more”. Two days later, Mullah Obaidullah Akhund was sitting with reporters, sipping coffee and entirely free.

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