Taliban Arrest Boosts U.S., Pakistan Effort

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The capture of the Taliban's senior most military commander is the first major sign of improvement in U.S.-Pakistani relations regarding Afghanistan. For years the Pakistani intelligence establishment viewed the Afghan Taliban as a strategic asset not to be discarded, especially if it appeared to be gaining ground next door. The Obama administration pointedly suggested that if Pakistan couldn't eliminate Afghan militants on its soil, the U.S. would.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.


And Im Linda Wertheimer.

Theres been friction between the U.S. and Pakistan over the question of how to deal with Afghanistan. The capture of the Talibans most senior military commander inside Pakistan points to a big improvement in cooperation. The arrest was the result of a joint operation between the American and Pakistani intelligence agencies.

NPRs Julie McCarthy reports from Islamabad on why this may be happening now.

JULIE MCCARTHY: Pakistans army today confirmed the arrest of Mullah Baradar. The capture of the veteran of the Mujahideen that fought the Soviets in the 1980s and the skilled commander of the Taliban fighting NATO troops in Afghanistan now appears to be part of a deepening U.S.-Pakistan understanding.

Professor HASAN-ASKARI RIZVI (Defense Analyst): Both sides seem to have shown accommodation toward each other. So there is an element of flexibility.

MCCARTHY: Thats defense analyst Hasan-Askari Rizvi, who says as an incentive to strengthen its cooperation, the U.S. would likely have given Pakistan assurances about its archrival, India.

Prof. RIZVI: Pakistan armys major concern is India, directly on the eastern border. So they may have understood each others concern - Pakistani armys concern about India and American concern that if the situation does not stabilize in Afghanistan, then even Pakistan will be in trouble.

MCCARTHY: For years, the Pakistan intelligence establishment viewed the Afghan Taliban as a strategic asset not to be discarded, especially if it appeared to be gaining ground next door. Those ties have chafed U.S.-Pakistan relations. The Obama administration pointedly suggested that if Pakistan couldnt eliminate Afghan militants on its soil, the U.S. would.

But international relations expert Professor Rasool Bakhsh Raees says the cooperation demonstrated in the capture in Karachi of one of the most senior ranking Taliban leaders suggests Pakistans attitudes toward the Taliban in Afghanistan have evolved.

Professor RASOOL BAKSH RAEES (International Relations Expert): There seems to be a new beginning and a new strategy. If Pakistan can arrest such an important Taliban leader, it means that not all of them get Pakistani support and they can't depend on Pakistan anymore.

MCCARTHY: But Professor Rizvi says dont look for any all-out assault by Pakistan on militant forces aligned with the Afghan Taliban. For example, the Haqqani network, stalwarts in the fight against NATO troops next door, may continue to operate with a free hand on Pakistani territory in North Waziristan along the Afghan border. And Rizvi says in a country with deep anti-American instincts, Pakistan must carefully consider any future joint operations.

Prof. RIZVI: That is, within Pakistan there will be pressure on the military from pro-Taliban Islamic elements that you are going all the way with the Americans. And you will see criticism from the Islamic groups of what has happened.

MCCARTHY: The apparent capture of Mullah Baradar has raised intriguing questions. Is leader number two providing information on the whereabouts of leader number one, Mullah Omar? And

Prof. RAEES: If number two can be in Pakistan, why would number one be in Afghanistan?

MCCARTHY: Professor Raees says that the Taliban is hiding in Karachi seems without doubt, but who tipped off whom regarding Baradars whereabouts? Unconfirmed reports say that the CIA first alerted Pakistans intelligence agency, the ISI, and if that is the case, defense analyst and retired Brigadier Javed Hussain says Pakistans intelligence establishment would have been under tremendous pressure to go along with the arrest.

Mr. JAVED HUSSAIN (Defense Analyst): If this information was only known to the Pakistani intelligence, I really dont know whether they would have captured him. They might have ignored him.

MCCARTHY: Author and analyst Ahmed Rashid says Pakistan has been given actionable intelligence in the past, but done nothing with it. And Rashid is skeptical about the timing of this latest capture.

Mr. AHMED RASHID (Author, Analyst): This arrest could have been carried out in anytime in nine years. Why today?

MCCARTHY: Rashid says this recent joint operation may say less about improved relations between two wary intelligence agencies than it does about Pakistans desire to be a regional player. It wants a seat at the table where the war in Afghanistan will likely be settled. And Rashid says cooperating in the capture of the most important figure to be detained since the war next door began in 2001 is one way to do it.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad.

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