Holbrooke: U.S., Pakistan Collaboration Working

In the first official remarks on the capture of Taliban Military Chief Mullah Baradar, White House regional representative Richard Holbrooke called the arrest of the Taliban No. 2 "a high water mark in Pakistani-American collaboration." He said cooperation and intelligence between the two allies have materially improved over the last year with military offensives and recent successes against the Taliban as proof.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Its MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. Im Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And Im Linda Wertheimer.

U.S. and Pakistani officials suggest theyre finally making progress against the Taliban in Pakistan. That country has served as a haven for militants to strike across the border in Afghanistan. Now the U.S. has struck back.

INSKEEP: A security official says a U.S. missile attack targeted a group known as the Haqqani network. The missile killed a leaders son. Pakistani authorities have also arrested two senior Taliban figures.

WERTHEIMER: And earlier this month, a joint U.S.-Pakistan operation captured the Talibans military commander. We begin in Islamabad.

NPRs Julie McCarthy reports on what U.S. officials are calling an intelligence coup.

JULIE MCCARTHY: The three arrests are being hailed as the most significant blow to the Talibans leadership since the American-backed war began in Afghanistan in 2001. Briefing reporters in Islamabad, where he met with civilian and military leaders, White House regional representative Richard Holbrooke called the joint operation in Karachi that swept up the Talibans number two, Mullah Baradar, significant in itself.

Mr. RICHARD HOLBROOKE (Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan): Very significant, and secondly, it represents another high water mark for Pakistani-American collaboration. That is really genuinely good news.

MCCARTHY: There have been questions raised about the timing of Mullah Baradars arrest and speculation about whether Pakistani intelligence may have engineered his capture as a way of ensuring Pakistans role in any negotiations to end the war in Afghanistan. But Ambassador Holbrooke denied any such intrigue surrounding Baradars capture.

Mr. HOLBROOKE: He was picked up because the information was developed. It had nothing to do with anything else.

MCCARTHY: A Pakistani security source confirmed that the arrests of Baradar and two additional senior figures, said to be shadow governors in Afghanistan, were conducted with the benefit of both U.S. and Pakistani involvement. It takes two to clap hands, he said. But the series of arrests that have come to light in Pakistan this week offers concrete evidence of a longstanding suspicion that the Afghan Taliban, including its high command, is able to use Pakistan as a safe haven.

The United States has expressed deep frustration in the past over Pakistans unwillingness, inability, or both, to shut down the Taliban on its soil. Ambassador Holbrooke said nothing on what sort of pressure the United States may have brought to bear on Pakistan to help reel in senior Taliban leaders, and the White House regional representative took pains to repeat that the United States is not engaged in any talks with the Taliban.

Holbrooke said people were confusing reintegration of militants willing to join the Afghan mainstream and reconciliation with the hardline forces, which he says is premature.

Mr. HOLBROOKE: There are no talks going on between the United States and the Taliban. They havent taken place. The president has clearly laid out our position on this, which is that any such talks should be led by the Afghans, and we have a clear red line - the Taliban must renounce al Qaida.

MCCARTHY: Holbrooke described the U.S.-Pakistan relationship as materially better than it was a year ago. U.S. and Pakistani sources cite regular visits to Pakistan by high-level American delegations for a boost in intelligence sharing and a deepened understanding of the concerns of both sides. But Holbrooke says whatever progress the United States and Pakistan have made in increasing mutual trust between them, the region including India and Afghanistan remains a complex challenge.

Mr. HOLBROOKE: Finding commonality is more difficult, more complicated than simply saying we have a common threat from terrorists, although that is the starting point. Each country looks at it differently.

MCCARTHY: For their part, Pakistans foreign minister insisted last night that it was fear of Talibanization in Pakistan, rather than U.S. pressure, that was the driving force behind the capture of senior Taliban commanders here.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad.

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