Scenarios: Captured Taliban commander: Will he talk?

KABUL Tue Feb 16, 2010 7:56am EST

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KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan Taliban's top military commander has been captured in Pakistan, U.S. and Pakistani officials said on Tuesday, but the move may not deal a decisive blow to a group putting up fierce resistance to a NATO offensive.

The Afghan Taliban has denied Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was captured in a joint raid by Pakistani and U.S. spy agencies.

Here are some scenarios that may emerge from the capture and the implications for Afghanistan:

BARADAR COOPERATES

The New York Times said Mullah Baradar has been in custody for several days and is being questioned by CIA and Pakistani intelligence. He will be pressed to answer questions that could give valuable leads on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, or his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri, who have a history of ties with the Taliban.

Mullah Baradar may not know much, despite his position, or may just keep in mind divulging information on al Qaeda could carry enormous risks. So he will be extra cautious.

He may be highly reluctant to give away much on one-eyed Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, who nicknamed him Baradar (brother) in a sign of deep trust and friendship.

But he may give information on other militants, which would be a coup for the CIA and help it recover from losing seven employees to a suicide bomber at a U.S. base in Afghanistan in December.

He may shed light on Taliban hideouts, networks and strategies, intelligence that could at least disrupt operations.

The problem is the capture of Mullah Baradar, or even Mullah Omar, may not be enough to bring stability to Afghanistan.

That will require far stronger Afghan troops and more public faith in a U.S.-backed government widely seen as corrupt.

Even one of the biggest NATO offensives in Afghanistan in the eight-year war in Helmand Province is aimed mostly at creating the conditions for strong local governance and a more effective Afghan army, not hunting down Taliban fighters.

BARADAR STAYS SILENT

Mullah Baradar could stay silent and deal with the consequences. The triumph of capturing him would fade -- especially if there is more militant violence in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

That means the Taliban insurgency would still rage and chances of Taliban and al Qaeda attacks would rise. Washington would also pour more pressure on Islamabad to go after Pakistan-based Afghan Taliban groups Pakistan keeps as a counterweight against Indian influence in Afghanistan.

HE IS SEEN AS A MEDIATOR

The United States and its allies have spoken of reconciliation with those Taliban who renounce violence, sever ties with al Qaeda and accept the Afghan constitution.

They could see Mullah Baradar as someone who could help them influence Taliban leaders likely to play a political role in the future. But his close association with hard-liner Mullah Omar, who may have only met a handful of Westerners in his life, raises doubts he would be malleable.

A former Taliban official said Mullah Baradar did not enjoy good relations with U.S. ally Pakistan, a powerful regional player that has said it was reaching out to the highest levels of the Taliban to help bring stability to Afghanistan.

Baradar's arrest would appear to indicate that Pakistan is signaling to the Taliban leadership that their fate is in Islamabad's hands, and that it expects its interests to be protected.

It also indicates that Islamabad may be changing its attitude toward the Afghan Taliban, which it has cultivated for years to use as a future counterweight to India in Afghanistan. However, this was only one arrest, albeit an important one.

(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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