Baradar's Arrest May Spark Taliban Trust Issues

Authorities have been questioning Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the second in command of the Afghan Taliban, who was arrested earlier this month in Pakistan. Analyst Brian Fishman tells Renee Montagne that Baradar's arrest is leading to speculation that he will give authorities information on Mullah Mohammad Omar, the top Taliban leader. Fishman is a research fellow at the New America Foundation, and West Point's Combating Terrorism Center.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

To learn more about Mullah Baradar, we reached we reached Brian Fishman. Hes a research fellow at the New America Foundation and West Points Combating Terrorism Center. Welcome to the program.

Mr. BRIAN FISHMAN (New America Foundation): Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, Mullah Baradar is the Talibans second in command, as we all now know. What is he exactly in charge of?

Mr. FISHMAN: Well, the overall leader of the Afghan Taliban is Mullah Omar, who serves sort of a broad advisory and sort of religious and ideological role, and what Mullah Baradar does is operationalizes those ideas. He took that role in 2007 after a guy named Mullah Dadullah was killed by a U.S. drone strike, and Mullah Dadullah was this very virulent al-Qaida-esque commander that had a reputation for brutality and suicide bombings and that sort of thing.

And Mullah Baradar came in and had a reputation as a little bit more of a thoughtful guy, wanted to win back some of the population that the Taliban had alienated. And so he's an interesting character in that sense.

MONTAGNE: Now, what is his relationship to Mullah Omar? If he's second in command, does that mean that they're close?

Mr. FISHMAN: Yes and no. I mean, I think that there were a lot of reports of tension between Mullah Omar and Mullah Dadullah, who was the sort of chief predecessor. And so I think that the introduction of somebody like Mullah Baradar indicated that there was at least a trust between him and Mullah Omar.

That said, there have been a lot of rumors recently of disagreements over strategy and whether or not to negotiate and how exactly to deal with U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

MONTAGNE: And where is he supposed to have fallen on the whole question of negotiating with NATO or reconciling with the government?

Mr. FISHMAN: Well, the rumor is that he was more willing to negotiate than others, but that's very hard to verify. That said, I think it's reasonable to assume that these kinds of debates are going on within the Afghan Taliban.

And the capture of somebody like Mullah Baradar is interesting because it means that he's going to be in direct contact with the Pakistani state, with the CIA, and they're going to be able to have discussions about the future of Afghanistan while they do that.

MONTAGNE: Although at this moment he is said to being interrogated.

Mr. FISHMAN: Absolutely.

MONTAGNE: And in that process, is he likely to cooperate?

Mr. FISHMAN: Oh, I don't know. I think it's worth noting that in a Pakistani context there is a fine line between interrogation and negotiation. While it is totally speculative at this point, it is worth recognizing that he will be both interrogated for information but also they will wonder and think about whether or not he can be useful politically down the road.

A lot of the Taliban leaders inside Pakistan today have spent time in Pakistani prisons and have been released in part because of deals that they have cut with the Pakistani state. History says that all options are on the table.

MONTAGNE: Is one of those options that he would lead them to Mullah Omar?

Mr. FISHMAN: One certainly hopes so. And what I think is interesting is that even if he's not going to do that, Mullah Omar has to worry that he will. And that's one of the most important impacts of a capture or an assassination like this, is that the remaining militant network is faced with a very, very large degree of ambiguity.

They don't know how the CIA and the ISI got the information that lead to Mullah Baradar's capture. They don't know what Mullah Baradar is going to say, so they have to assume the worst. And that creates a lot of mistrust within an organization like the Afghan Taliban, which leads to all sorts of misunderstandings. People start to look out, you know, for number one. They feel like they can't trust some other people in the organization and it creates real issues.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. FISHMAN: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Brian Fishman is a research fellow at the New America Foundation and West Point's Combating Terrorism Center.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.