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Pakistan Arrests Throw Afghan Taliban Into Disarray
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Pakistan Arrests Throw Afghan Taliban Into Disarray

Afghanistan

Pakistan Arrests Throw Afghan Taliban Into Disarray

Pakistan Arrests Throw Afghan Taliban Into Disarray
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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/124501310/124501283" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Pakistani soldiers in a captured Taliban complex near the Afghan border i

Pakistani soldiers leave a cave complex that housed a key militant headquarters in Damadola earlier this month. Pakistan's army said it had captured a key Taliban and al-Qaida complex dug into rocky mountains near the Afghan border after killing 75 local and foreign militants. A recent crackdown on Afghan Taliban leadership has disrupted the group's operations, analysts say. A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistani soldiers in a captured Taliban complex near the Afghan border

Pakistani soldiers leave a cave complex that housed a key militant headquarters in Damadola earlier this month. Pakistan's army said it had captured a key Taliban and al-Qaida complex dug into rocky mountains near the Afghan border after killing 75 local and foreign militants. A recent crackdown on Afghan Taliban leadership has disrupted the group's operations, analysts say.

A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images

The recent arrests in Pakistan of key Taliban leaders are having a serious impact on the militant organization, according to analysts. Over the past few weeks, at least six of the Taliban's leadership council, known as the Quetta Shura, have been detained by Pakistani security forces.

"I think things have changed decisively," says analyst and author Michael Semple, who has spent more than two decades living in Afghanistan and following developments there. "The reality is that half the Taliban leadership is now sitting in Pakistan custody; that's now just a fact of life."

The legendary Afghan Taliban leader — Mullah Mohammed Omar — remains at large. But among those detained are Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's second in command and its military operations chief; Mullah Abdul Kabir, a regional commander based in Peshawar; and Agha Jan Mutassim, the Taliban's former finance minister.

Semple, who is also a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, says the detained Taliban leaders are people who have been directing military operations against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. He says that when they are picked up, it disrupts military operations.

"So there's been confusion for the Taliban inside Pakistan, and I'm sure that their support to military operations in Afghanistan has been weakened," he says.

The arrests also have left the Pakistan-based Quetta Shura — essentially the Taliban's central government — in disarray, says Alex Strick, a writer and researcher who has lived in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar for the past two years.

"The Quetta Shura [has] more or less been taken out of the picture at least for the moment while they reshuffle themselves," Strick says.

In the past, Taliban leaders who were arrested or killed were simply replaced, as will the six or so members this time. What is curious about this group is they are widely considered to be relatively moderate, and at least open to the idea of negotiating a peace deal with the Afghanistan government under President Hamid Karzai.

Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani author and analyst on the Taliban, says that is especially true of the detained military commander Mullah Baradar.

"There's the very strong speculation, and especially coming from Kabul, that Mullah Baradar was ... in touch with the Karzai government in Kabul, and that his people at least were talking to the Kabul administration," Rashid says.

He says the negotiations have been going on for some time and that the other men recently captured were also part of the negotiations.

All the analysts interviewed for this story agree the arrests by the Pakistan security forces are not coincidence, and most likely an effort on Pakistan's part to ensure a seat at any negotiating table involving the Taliban — whether it's by preventing the detained men from further negotiations or to have control over their dialogue.

But the arrests may have an impact on any potential future negotiations because it's believed those detained will be replaced by more hard-liners, such as Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir, who commands military operations against the U.S. in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

Bill Roggio, the editor of the online Long War Journal, says Zakir is considered to be a top contender to replace Mullah Baradar as the No. 2 man in the Taliban.

"He is one of the top Taliban commanders, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee. We released him in 2006 and he ... quickly returned to the insurgency. He's considered the Taliban's military commander in the south," Roggio says.

Roggio says bringing in new leaders such as Zakir could lead to an even more dangerous Taliban.

Still, the Taliban's leadership has to be rattled by Pakistan's sudden rush to crack down on militants on its soil, Roggio says. He says there must be concern within the leadership and the ranks of the Taliban that perhaps their safe haven in Pakistan is gone.

"I think if I was in the Afghan Taliban and I watched six of the top leaders of our movement suddenly disappear from the battlefield, I'd be very concerned and looking over my shoulder," Roggio says.

Many analysts say the disarray within the Taliban could open up a power struggle, especially between the older, original members and the younger generation. But they also agree it's likely that some form of the militant group will remain standing.

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