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.