Update: For more, see Part 2 here
Recently a very prominent and highly ranked Afghan Taliban Mullah Baradar was arrested in ‘apparently’ a joint Pakistan/US operation in Karachi. In the Afghan Taliban hierarchy, he is reported to be second to only Mullah Omar.
This was a very strange and perplexing development from a Pakistani layman’s perspective. All sorts of things go through the head. Pakistan is at war with Pakistan Taliban in the form of TTP, but has not been keen to pick an unnecessary conflict with Afghan Taliban. The US has been very keen to try and force Pakistan into the fire of a more violent conflict by making no distinction between different Taliban factions, but Pakistan has rightly stood by its strategy that it should only fight with those people who want to fight with Pakistan. Afghan Taliban are not Pakistan’s proxies and many are most likely distrustful and unsympathetic to Pakistan. BUT, they don’t want to fight Pakistan. Their beef is with foreign occupation forces in the form of US & NATO.
So, why pick a fight with those who wish to live in peace?
Given the above background, I have been trying to make sense of Mullah Baradar’s and a couple of “shadow governors” arrest. It doesn’t seem to make sense to make Afghan Taliban enemies and have a new spate of attacks confront Pakistan. Especially given that US is trying to come to some type of agreement with the Afghan Taliban unofficialy and also that once the US pulls out, the afghan taliban will most likely have presence in the new power setup.
All sort of scenarios trouble the mind. Has Pakistan made a dramatic 180, a drastic change of policy and now subscribes to US doctrine? That is fraught with danger. A course of action which could see Pakistan engaged in a more brutal, violent, unending war against enemies local + foreign + proxies… An overstretched military forced into an unpopular, unwise and unending conflict. Also, betraying people who are not at war with us is an unwise and unethical move be it in the religious, moral, ground reality, strategy, doctrine, any way/sense you take it. So, has Pakistan military turned on the Afghan Taliban and thrown their hat with the US? Maybe not. Everybody knows that US can’t win the war militarily and that it will recall its troops after some period. So, would Pakistani planners be so dense to throw in their hat with the losing side. Also, US has a history of using ‘allies’ and then ditching them. Pakistan has first hand experience of that. So, it is highly unlikely that the military has forgotten the ‘friendship’ of the US in times of need. US has its own interests and it would much rather cosy up to israel and India, so Pakistan should know that whatever promises, whatever deals, whatever incentives are being offered by the US are nothing more than a mirage. If US was truly sincere ally of Pakistan, it would have had a ‘chat’ with the Indians who have set up numerous ’embassies’ alongside the Pakistan/Afghan border. All intelligence agencies know what these terrorist training centres are upto. So, if US was Pakistan’s friend, it would have long ago told the Indians to stop their terrorism against Pakistan, their ‘ally?’ in the war on terror. Given all this and especially now that the US is looking for ways of face saving retreat, it doesn’t make sense that Pakistan would do a 180 now and make enemies of the Afghan Taliban (who will have a presence in the future political and power setup of the new landscape.)
Another possibilty that came to my mind was that it is known that US has operatives and contractors infiltrating Karachi, Quetta … So, they might have armtwisted ISI to act or the US would take matters into their own hands regardless of how angry Pakistanis would be at the operation. Maybe some members/group of ISI sold out the Pakistani military position/doctrine to curry the favor of their CIA associates.
All sorts of possibilites come to the mind. Did we betray those who trusted us? Did we change our doctrine and outlook towards the Afghan Taliban? Did we … this? Did we … that?
Then, I came acoss a piece by Lse Doucet of BBC, which MIGHT give an insight into this development. There may be a lot more than meets the eye regarding Baradar’s arrest. Apparently, Baradar had become too independent and may have had a falling out with Mullah Omar. He was also negotiating with Karzai and charting his own course. By arresting Baradar, Pakistan military/intelligence might have made a tactical move. Maybe Mullah Omar and others within Taliban wanted this to happen. Pakistan can now say to the west, “here you go. This is not a low rank/mid level Taliban. We have acted against a big fish.” And yet at the same time, strengthened their position. Instead of being left with a hostile Indian sponsored terrorist hub on the western border, Pakistan can help reach a settlement to the benefit of peace. Peace for Pakistan, Peace for the Afghan Taliban, Peace for the Afghans. Mind you, Pakistan is not trying to control the Afghan Taliban. Contrary to the indian and western propaganda, Pakistan does not have that much influence with Afghan Taliban. Some individuals might be friends, but as a whole, there is too much mistrust. Too much water has flown under the bridge. An increased Pakistani role is not a way of controlling Afghans, rather it ensures that a lasting peace can be negotiated. It is not a case of Afghanistan being Pro-Pakistan. That has not been the case even in historical terms. The idea is that by denying miscreant players like India free hand in Afghanistan — a neutral, a not hostile Afghanistan can emerge. If Mullah Omar and other leaders were in on this development, then it means that the peace negotiated by Pakistan, US, Afghan Taliban & other Afghan groups/factions will be more genuine and more likely to succeed and be adhered to by all concerned.
Karzai and his cronies are corrupt and not representative of Afghan people. By engaging those parties which genuniely have stakes in Afghanistan’s peace, the likelihood of the peace being a lasting one and one in line with ground realities goes up.
This article by Lyse Doucet of BBC “might” give an insight into these developments. Below are some quotes from the article, or you could just click on the link and read it in full at the BBC website.
Pakistan’s push for new role in Afghanistan
The sudden significant capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, second in charge in the Taliban hierarchy, comes at a crucial point.
Talk of negotiation is now taking centre stage, a strategy in parallel to a powerful military assault against Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan.
Mullah Baradar, reported to have been picked up by Pakistani and US intelligence agents in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, may have become too independent.
Sources in Kabul say he and his envoys have been involved in secret talks with the Afghan president in Kabul, his representatives in southern Afghanistan and outside the country.
One senior Afghan official who, like others, is not commenting publicly for now, said: “This may be good for public opinion but, for us, it can have a negative impact.
“It was easier for us to talk to him.”
A Western source involved in the process expressed frustration this channel was now being exposed and, for the moment, stopped.
More arrests have now been reported including two Taliban “shadow governors” who reported to Mullah Baradar.
Reports from Kandahar last month speculated that Mullah Baradar would soon be arrested because of growing tensions with Mullah Omar.
“Pakistan has accomplished two objectives,” remarked Lt Col Tony Shaffer, who served as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan in 2003, and is now at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies in Washington.
“They’ve shown us in the West they’re willing to co-operate and they’ve taken out someone they didn’t control.”
A few years ago, Kabul opened contacts with another senior Taliban leader, Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, who had also fallen out with Mullah Omar, only to have Pakistan capture him in early 2008. At the time, a senior Afghan intelligence official expressed anger and dismay.
Dutch journalist Bette Dam, author of a recent book on Hamid Karzai, has written of years of contacts between the president and Mullah Baradar, who are both from the Popalzai tribe.
Mullah Baradar is said to have come to the rescue of Hamid Karzai when he was threatened by Taliban fighters in the southern province of Uruzgan after the 9/11 attacks.
On her most recent visit to Uruzgan in December, Ms Dam said that she had been informed that Mullah Baradar made a visit to Kabul last year.
Afghans in the province – the birthplace of Mullah Baradar – also spoke of “how powerful and increasingly independent he had become in the Taliban movement, establishing his own committees and charities, and operating though his own tribal networks”.