Taliban Leader Captured - Now What?

February 18, 2010     
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The capture of the man alleged to be the senior military commander of the Taliban raises more questions than it answers.

On the surface, this would appear to be a good news story about the capture of a leading “bad guy” in the ongoing Afghanistan conflict. Below the surface, however, things are less certain. Several other possibilities exist as to why Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was “captured” at this time and what it actually means.

Mullah Baradar is one of the original Taliban members and he is a close confident of Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader. His capture may turn out to be a significant political victory and one that may demoralize some members of the Taliban. However, his removal from the chain of command may not have a major effect on the Taliban’s ability to mount operations in the field.

What is more interesting, however, is who “captured” Mullah Baradar and why. Mullah Baradar was reportedly arrested in Karachi in a joint US-Pakistan operation. This would directly infer that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) was involved. It would be a rare event if the ISI was not at least informed of such an action before it occurred.

Given that the ISI and the US government were involved in the capture of the Taliban’s military leader and presumed number two man overall, several questions arise. The most interesting ones are:

a. Was Mullah Baradar involved in discussions with Saudi Arabia and others about a possible agreement with the government of President Karzai of Afghanistan? Given his seniority and leadership positions, nothing of consequence could be decided by the Taliban without his approving it.

b. Who can replace Mullah Baradar as the military commander or will the Taliban even announce a replacement? If he is replaced with a formal announcement, then this would seem to indicate that the Taliban believes that his services are lost to them and he will not return. If, however, there is no formal announcement of a replacement or another individual is given a temporary position as military commander, then this may indicate that the Taliban believes that Mullah Baradar may yet return to a position of some influence in the near future.

c. Who is actually holding Mullah Baradar and where will he surface next? If he reappears in Kabul as a guest who is under house arrest by the Afghan government, this is an indicator that he will be involved with further negotiations with the Karzai government. This in turn might suggest a possible negotiated outcome of the conflict.

d. Did the ISI arrange for or allow the “capture” Mullah Baradar in order to reinforce their own position? The ISI is one of the few agencies of the Pakistani government that can be said to have real influence and operational capabilities in Pakistan. If the ISI was aware that negotiations were ongoing between America, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, this may have angered them if they perceived that their own interests were being sidelined. If Mullah Baradar stays in Pakistani custody for an extended period of time, then this may indicate a larger role of the ISI in future negotiations.

The government of President Karzai is already troubled with serious internal clan fighting and killings, a weakened position following last year’s election debacle and ongoing charges of corruption and inefficiency. As such, the capture of the Taliban’s Mullah Baradar will have major implications beyond that of the loss of an enemy field commander. Where Mullah Baradar turns up next will be a major indicator of the outcome of the negotiations with the Taliban and the future path of the conflict itself.

The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of either Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.

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2 Responses to “Taliban Leader Captured - Now What?”

  1. Sunny Peter on February 22nd, 2010 9:05 am

    Hi Tom,

    I have an article on this topic. It would be nice to have your opinion on the same.

    Kind regards


  2. Sunny Peter on February 22nd, 2010 9:07 am

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