Q+A: What Taliban commander Baradar's capture means
(Reuters) - The Taliban's top military commander has been captured in Pakistan in a joint raid by Pakistani and U.S. spy agencies, a U.S. official said.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is the most significant Taliban figure captured since the start of the Afghan war. The New York Times said he had been in Pakistani custody for several days and was being interrogated by Pakistani and U.S. intelligence.
Here are some questions and answers about the implications of Baradar's capture.
WHY NOW? While there is much speculation that this is related to the joint U.S.-British-Afghan operation in Afghanistan, it's more likely that Pakistan's move against Baradar in Karachi is connected to a renewed drive for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Pakistan is anxious to have a say in post-war Afghanistan in order to limit Indian influence. To do so, it needs to bring to heel the Afghan Taliban, an often unreliable client of Islamabad over the years, so as to have a major say in any peace talks. The Taliban have supply networks and sanctuaries on the Pakistani side of the border and by arresting a senior figure such as Baradar, the Pakistanis could be aiming to pressure the Taliban -- who have resisted overtures from Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Baradar's arrest would appear to indicate that Pakistan is signaling the Taliban leadership that their fate is in Islamabad's hands, and that it expects its interests to be protected and India's checked in any talks with Karzai.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE FIGHTING IN AFGHANISTAN?
That's not clear. According to a profile in Newsweek last year, Baradar is involved in the naming and firing of Taliban commanders and governors and runs its military council and the Quetta Shura, a group of Taliban leaders led by supreme chief Mullah Mohammad Omar and based, according to Afghan and U.S. officials, in the Pakistani city of Quetta. Baradar also issued some of the Taliban's most important policy statements in his name and controlled the group's treasury.
He is also seen as a fair and charismatic leader, able to hold fractious field commanders in check. With his removal from the scene, Taliban commanders might fall to squabbling over drug money and extortion rackets, which the Americans and NATO could exploit for military advantage.
A NEW DIRECTION FOR U.S.-PAKISTANI COOPERATION?
There certainly seems to be a new level of cooperation, given that the raid was lead by members of the Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) with help from the U.S. CIA. The United States has long pressured Pakistan to move against Afghan Taliban groups, not just those opposed to Islamabad. One security analyst said Baradar's capture represented a "sea change" in Pakistan's behavior, which for years had cultivated the Afghan Taliban to use as a future counterweight to India in Afghanistan. This change, however, likely did not come without some concessions from the Americans over Pakistan's -- and possibly India's -- role in Afghanistan.
WHAT DOMESTIC FALLOUT IN PAKISTAN?
The Afghan Taliban have been losing favor for years in Pakistan, as their brethren based on the Afghan border unleashed a campaign of bombings and assassinations.
But politicians such as former cricket star Imran Khan and religious parties have long accused the government and military of being too close to the United States and selling out Pakistan's sovereignty. There may be a few scattered protests from such religious and nationalist groups over Pakistan's involvement in Baradar's capture, but no large show of support for the Taliban is likely.
As for the impact on the Pakistani Taliban, while the Afghan and Pakistan groups are allied, they aren't closely linked operationally or financially. Indeed, several Afghan Taliban factions with bases in Pakistan have stayed out of the Pakistani military's fight against the Pakistani Taliban. More than any tactical impact, Baradar's capture would likely be a blow to the morale of the homegrown Taliban, who have suffered setbacks over the past year and whose leader was reported killed in a U.S. drone strike last month.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)
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