Top Taliban Commander Arrested, C.I.A. Played, 'The New York Times' Reports : The Two-Way Foreign correspondent Dexter Filkins suggests the Pakistanis might've enlisted the C.I.A.'s help to arrest a Taliban leader, so that he couldn't participant in peace talks.
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Top Taliban Commander Arrested, C.I.A. Played, 'The New York Times' Reports

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Top Taliban Commander Arrested, C.I.A. Played, 'The New York Times' Reports

Top Taliban Commander Arrested, C.I.A. Played, 'The New York Times' Reports

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From The New York Times comes an intriguing, if discouraging, story about the triangular relationship of the United States, Pakistan and the Taliban.

Last January, Pakistani and U.S. intelligence agencies arrested a senior Taliban leader in the city of Karachi. According to reports at the time, it took them a few days to figure out how big a catch they'd landed: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a top Taliban military commander.

Well, now, Times reporter Dexter Filkins cites Pakistani officials as admitting that they knew exactly who he was and that they had wanted him arrested because Baradar was pursuing peace talks with Afghanistan. In short, according to Filkins, the Pakistanis say the CIA was played.

Dexter Filkins joins us from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Welcome to the program. And take us back to January, what did the U.S. know about Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar when the CIA helped track him down?

Mr. DEXTER FILKINS (Foreign Correspondent, The New York Times): Well, he is, basically - or he was the operational commander of the Taliban. He is second only to Mullah Omar. So he was arrested in a joint raid in Karachi, which is in an enormous sprawling city of about 20 million people. And what they said at the time was, you know, we knew were going after a bad guy, but we had no idea just how big a fish he was. And it took a couple of days for everybody to figure out just what big a catch it was. And then everybody patted themselves on the back and said, wow, isn't this great?

SIEGEL: First of all, we should say this is vigorously denied by the U.S., by the CIA.

Mr. FILKINS: Yes. It's vigorously denied by some American officials, very vigorously. They say this is a fairy tale. But I should say that there are a lot of American officials who do not deny it and who realize or who said that what may have happened here is that the CIA was used inadvertently to advance the larger Pakistani aim of closing down the peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, essentially so they could get a seat at the table, basically.

SIEGEL: Now Kai Eide, the former top U.N. official in Kabul, said back in March that the arrests in Pakistan, the arrest of Baradar, had broken the channel of communication between the Afghan government and the Taliban, a channel that would be necessary for peace talks. What you're reporting, you're citing the Pakistanis as saying this, is not just that that happened, that was the point of these arrests. They wanted that to happen.

Mr. FILKINS: Exactly, exactly. I and my colleagues spoke to a number of people in the ISI, the Pakistani spy agency, who made that very clear. They said - and just by chance, I should say, one of my colleagues in early January, just before Baradar was arrested, happened to speak to a very senior member of the ISI, and again, this was before Baradar's arrest, and he said we're going to get Baradar, we are looking for him, and the reason why is because we suspect he's doing a deal with the Americans. They're all going behind our backs, and we're not going to stand for it.

SIEGEL: You quote a Pakistani security official speaking anonymously saying this: We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians. India figures prominently here in the entire Pakistani view of what's happening in Afghanistan, I assume.

Mr. FILKINS: Yes, yes. You know, Pakistan is obsessed with India. And, you know, Afghanistan is almost kind of an afterthought. They are obsessed with India and what they believe India is trying to do to them.

And so when the Pakistanis look at Afghanistan, they see the Indians doing all sorts of things to encircle them, to take away their western frontier, to destabilize their country.

And so what they see when they look at Kabul, the Afghan capital, and they see President Karzai, and they see the Americans here, what they really see is the Indians behind everything. And so what the Pakistanis saw when they heard that the Afghans were talking to each other, they saw an Indian hand. And that, like nothing else, gets their back up.

SIEGEL: What did Pakistan do with the senior Taliban figure who was arrested here?

Mr. FILKINS: Well, that's a great question. I was told that he was taken to a safe house in Islamabad where he is now relaxing very comfortably. You know, it's a very strange - it's a hard thing to get your mind around, and that is it's a double game.

On one hand, the Pakistani government is the allies of the United States. We give them a billion dollars a year, and we have every year since 2001. On the other hand, there is an enormous body of evidence to show that they also, at the very same time, support the Taliban and that they allow them to flourish inside their country. And so that's the really, really tricky double game here.

SIEGEL: Dexter Filkins, thanks for talking with us.

Mr. FILKINS: Thank you so much.

SIEGEL: That's reporter Dexter Filkins of the New York Times, speaking to us from Islamabad.

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