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Taliban military commander captured; will it impact reconciliation talks?
Posted by on February 16th, 2010

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By Gregg Carlstrom

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s military commander and one of the group’s “founding fathers,” was captured recently by U.S. and Pakistani intelligence in a raid in Karachi.

… Baradar, is an Afghan described by American officials as the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the American-led war in Afghanistan started more than eight years ago. He ranks second in influence only to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban’s founder and a close associate of Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks.

A significant development, to be sure. Baradar is the highest-level Taliban figure apprehended to date; his capture will probably degrade the Taliban’s military capabilities, at least in the short term. And it’s notable that he was nabbed in Pakistan, with (presumably) extensive cooperation between the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and conclude that Baradar’s arrest will have a substantial impact on Taliban reconciliation. I think this from Michael Cohen is a little too optimistic, for example:

One can only imagine the impact on Taliban feelings of security and reliance on Pakistani support: that safe haven ain’t feeling so safe anymore. One has to think this will affect the drive toward political reconciliation in a dramatic way – because if you’re the Taliban this news suggests that time is no longer necessarily on your side.

This could be true — if Baradar’s arrest heralds a serious anti-Taliban push from the Pakistani military and intelligence services. That’s a big “if.” Pakistani leaders, particularly Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, have said some encouraging things in recent weeks. The ISI has a history of playing all sides, though; it’s quite possible Pakistan’s security apparatus saw a strategic benefit in capturing Baradar (fears about a mounting Taliban presence in Karachi, perhaps, or maybe the ISI is getting something in return) but doesn’t plan to make a habit of these arrests.

Not saying his capture won’t have an impact on reconciliation — just that it’s too early to tell whether this is a lasting partnership or a temporary confluence of interests.

I’m similarly unconvinced that the manner in which Baradar is questioned will have any impact on reconciliation efforts. The U.S. shouldn’t torture him, because torture is morally and legally abhorrent. But I don’t think there are too many Taliban commanders in Quetta who will read the papers and say, hey, Mullah Abdul was treated nicely! We should turn ourselves in, too.

Finally, a good point (via Twitter) from Colin Cookman: Baradar’s arrest “has [the] potential to fragment the movement [and] make whole-scale reconciliation more difficult even as it degrades capabilities.”

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