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Next Moves Against the Taliban

GB Geo-Blog

Next Moves Against the Taliban

Last week’s capture of the Afghan Taliban’s number two commander, Mullah Baradar, raises more questions than it answers. What role did the Pakistani ISI play in his capture, and how will this affect their future role in Afghanistan? Baradar is a brutal killer, but he also showed recent signs of an openness to negotiation with the Karzai and US governments. Will his capture encourage or foreclose future negotiations with the Taliban? Will his removal make the Afghan Taliban more or less threatening?

The next 2-3 weeks will determine the answers to these questions. More than anything else, the Karzai government and the NATO forces in Afghanistan must take immediate action to capitalize on the positive potential in Baradar’s capture. First, NATO forces must stay on the offensive and show that they are capable of keeping the pressure on the Taliban. Baradar’s capture cannot be an isolated success. Second, carrots must accompany sticks. NATO and the Karzai government must pick off those groups that support the Taliban from convenience, not from deep conviction. The history of nation-building operations shows that insurgent groups like these can become loyal citizens. Third, and perhaps most important, the US must keep the Pakistani ISI out of Afghanistan, and focused on anti-Taliban activities on the Pakistani side of the border. The ISI is a consistent source of Afghan instability, particularly in the South, and it has recurringly neglected its own internal insurgency. The US must discipline the ISI and show that Baradar’s capture does not signal a growth in ISI influence.

Turning points in nation-building are not personal, singular, or even militarily significant in their own terms. Chaos and conflict become order and stability when a victory or capture produce a new balance of power and a new set of relationships. The US, NATO, and the Karzai government must work decisively to make the Baradar capture serve these purposes.

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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  1. Andrew Thompson February 19, 2010

    You make an excellent point in your call for sustained progress. Coalition forces must capitalize on the capture of Mullah Baradar – and indeed, progress is being made. The ISI arrested two Taliban shadow governors this week – Mullah Mir Mohammad and Mullah Abdul Salam – and US missile strikes in North Waziristan have increased in tempo. These strikes are thought to have successfully targeted Mohammad Haqqani, a senior leader of the Haqqani network and son of Jalaluddin Haqqani who founded the Haqqani network, one of the largest problems in the tribal regions and southern Afghanistan.

    What is most interesting about the capture of Baradar, in my opinion, is that he was reportedly captured in Karachi, which has been fairly isolated from the Taliban insurgency in Pakistan. It is also reported that the CIA cooperated with the ISI in the operation, meaning American intelligence agents were involved in the capture. Capturing senior Taliban leaders in Karachi – one of Pakistan’s largest population centers, should be cause for concern. It shows that the Pakistani people are very much in danger. But it also shows that missile strikes in the tribal regions have forced the Taliban to shift their strategy. The US would be extremely reluctant to target Taliban leaders in an area where collateral damage would be extremely high, if US leaders could even get permission for such a strike from their Pakistani counterparts, and the Taliban now recognize this and have adapted.

    There is a real chance for progress in the region if actionable intelligence can be gained from Baradar, Mir Mohammad, and Abdul Salam. I would expect to see a continued increase in missile strikes and ISI arrests in the next few weeks. But we must see, as you put it so eloquently, carrots to accompany the sticks.

  2. Jeremi Suri February 20, 2010

    You make an excellent point, Andrew, about the significance of Baradar’s capture in Karachi and the apparent ISI-CIA cooperation. The fact that senior Taliban figures are operating in major urban centers, like Karachi, is a cause of major concern. This is reinforced by the evidence in the New York Times yesterday that Baradar was apparently captured by accident.

    US and Pakistani forces are certainly making progress in targeting and apprehending Taliban leaders. The civilian casualties from drone attacks and ground raids seem quite small. The real question remains whether the US, NATO, Afghani, and Pakistani forces in the region can simultaneously contain, destroy, and coopt the Taliban. We need to do all three with various elements within the Taliban movement. We need to do all three to build a viable nation-state in Afghanistan.

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