Captured Taliban Commander Seen As Moderate

The captured Taliban commander is more moderate than others in the movement and has been open to negotiations with the Afghan government, Newsweek's South Asia bureau chief says. Ron Moreau says Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar's relationship with Taliban leader Mullah Omar dates back to the Soviet era.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Ron Moreau of Newsweek has reported extensively on Mullah Baradar. In fact, he was an email contact with the Taliban commander last year. Moreau says Mullah Baradar's relationship with Taliban founder Mullah Omar dates back several decades. The two studied together and later joined the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Mr. RON MOREAU (Southeast Asia Correspondent, Newsweek): Mullah Omar became a unit commander in that war and Baradar served in that unit. And after the defeat of the Soviets, they went off and they formed their own mosques and madrasas. And then several years later, when Mullah Omar started his revolt against the abuses of the formerly victorious mujahideen warlords, it was Baradar that was one of the first people who joined Omar and took up arms. And within three years they were ruling most of Afghanistan and certainly were in charge in Kabul.

BLOCK: You describe a scene at the time of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 when Mullah Baradar puts Mullah Omar on the back of his motorcycle and drives him to safety.

Mr. MOREAU: Exactly, the bombs were falling all over Kandahar and Kandahar was ready to fall, and Baradar grabbed the motorcycle and got Mullah Omar to ride pylon and then took him into the mountains. And that's the last anyone's ever seen of Mullah Omar.

BLOCK: You wrote last summer that Mullah Baradar maybe more dangerous than Mullah Omar ever was. When you think about the increased lethality of attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan, would you attribute that to - specifically to Mullah Baradar?

Mr. MOREAU: Well, yeah, I think so. What he's done is he's - under his command, the Taliban has really extended its control. You know, he's made the Taliban much more savvy political movement. Who knows, maybe even his arrest had something to do with his ideas in terms of talking peace or not talking peace.

BLOCK: Well, let's talk about that. You raised the question last summer in an article whether the Afghan government or the U.S. could strike a deal with Mullah Baradar. One Taliban operative told you he's not an extremist like some commanders. If there were ever to be negotiations, Baradar would be the best man to talk to. And you asked him about that in your email exchange. What did Baradar say?

Mr. MOREAU: Well, you know, Baradar, on the record, of course, does not favor any kind of negotiations until all foreign forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan. But the fact is that Baradar has in the past tried to begin some kind of fledgling dialogue with the Kabul government. One of the things that's important is that both Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and Mullah Baradar are both from the same tribe, the Popolzai tribe. And I think that he would, perhaps in the right circumstances, would be more amenable to peace. And that may have been one of the reasons the Pakistanis picked him up along with the U.S., thinking that that would be further pressure on the Taliban to perhaps get into some kind of dialogue.

BLOCK: Do you see it playing out that way?

Mr. MOREAU: I think inevitably there have to be some kind of talks. The problem is, that is if you've talked to almost anybody in the Taliban, they are all adamantly opposed to any negotiations because they feel they have momentum and that they're very strong. And I think there's more kind of religious and Islamic ideology involved in the Taliban than the U.S. command would admit. Richard Holbrook, the U.S. envoy is always saying, oh, 70 percent of the Taliban are just fighting for money or for local grievances. If you talk to people on the ground, that's not true. They're very, very motivated by a religious cause, you know, bringing Shariah back.

And being Pashtuns they're also motivated by the code of Pashtunwali, which means, you know, harboring and protecting guests but it also means eye-for-an-eye vengeance. And most of these Taliban fighters have lost dozens, if not, scores of friends and relatives to the war. And there's an awful lot of calls for vengeance out there. So, it's going to be very difficult to get peace talks going but inevitably there will have to be some kind of negotiated settlement or else the war will just go on forever.

BLOCK: Ron Moreau, thank you very much.

Mr. MOREAU: My pleasure.

BLOCK: Ron Moreau is South Asia bureau chief for Newsweek. He spoke with us from Islamabad.

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Top Taliban Commander Caught In Pakistan

An Urdu-language newspaper reports the capture of a Taliban commander in Karachi, Pakistan. i i

A man at a newsstand in Karachi, Pakistan, reads an Urdu-language evening newspaper reporting the capture of a top Taliban commander. Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty Images
An Urdu-language newspaper reports the capture of a Taliban commander in Karachi, Pakistan.

A man at a newsstand in Karachi, Pakistan, reads an Urdu-language evening newspaper reporting the capture of a top Taliban commander.

Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty Images

The Taliban's top military commander has been captured in the Pakistani city of Karachi and is under interrogation — a major victory against the insurgents battling U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

The capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was carried out jointly by the CIA and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, officials said Tuesday.

Baradar, the most senior Afghan Taliban leader arrested since the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan began in 2001, is considered second only to founder Mullah Mohammad Omar in the Taliban hierarchy. He is also believed to be a close associate of Osama bin Laden's.

One Pakistani officer said Baradar was arrested 10 days ago in the seaport city and "was talking" to his interrogators.

NPR's Julie McCarthy says Baradar is a potential "treasure-trove" of information about the Afghan Taliban. She says authorities have been questioning him for days and that he has been asked, among other things, about the whereabouts of bin Laden and Mullah Omar.

Baradar's capture is a significant success for the Obama administration, which has vowed to kill or seize Taliban and al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It also signals a new level of cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan, which has been accused of allowing the Afghan Taliban to operate with impunity. Baradar's capture follows an increase in attacks by U.S. Predator drones that have reportedly killed many midlevel Taliban commanders.

A Taliban spokesman in Afghanistan said Baradar was still free, though he did not provide any evidence.

"We totally deny this rumor. He has not been arrested," Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press by telephone. He said the report was Western propaganda aimed at undercutting the Taliban as they try to repel a NATO offensive in the stronghold of Marjah in southern Afghanistan.

Baradar was the deputy defense minister in the Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan until it was ousted eight years ago. He was appointed to the No. 2 position in the insurgency after the death of military chief Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Usmani in 2006. Baradar is known to coordinate the group's military operations throughout the south and southwest of Afghanistan, and his area of direct responsibility stretches over Kandahar, Helmand, Nimroz, Zabul and Uruzgan provinces.

There was also speculation that the arrest could be related in some way to a new push by the United States and its NATO allies to negotiate with moderate Afghan Taliban leaders as a way to end the war in Afghanistan. Pakistan has an important role in that process because of its close links with members of the movement, which it supported before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Karachi is Pakistan's largest city and has been increasingly cited as a possible hiding place for top Afghan Taliban commanders in recent months. It has a large population of Pashtuns, the ethnic group that makes up the Taliban, but it is on the Arabian Sea and far from the Afghan border.

Word of Baradar's capture came as U.S. Marine and Afghan units pressed deeper into Marjah, facing sporadic rocket and mortar fire as they moved through suspected insurgent neighborhoods in the NATO offensive to reclaim the town.

After denying for years that Afghan Taliban were based in the country, the Pakistani government and security agencies had little reason to publicize the arrest of Baradar, which was first reported by The New York Times.

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said authorities had arrested a "number of people who are running away from Afghanistan and coming to Pakistan," but he would not confirm the Baradar's capture.

The Times said it learned of the CIA-Pakistani operation last Thursday but delayed reporting it at the request of White House officials who said that publicizing it would end a valuable intelligence-gathering effort by making Baradar's associates aware of his capture. The newspaper said it decided to publish the news after White House officials acknowledged that the arrest was becoming widely known in the region.

From NPR staff and wire reports

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