Page last updated at 12:47 GMT, Tuesday, 16 February 2010

How significant is Mullah Baradar's arrest?

By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News, Islamabad

Taliban militants
Some analysts argue that the Taliban may yet regroup and deny the Americans a final victory

The capture of top Taliban militant commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in the Pakistani city of Karachi is the most important catch for the American CIA and the Pakistani intelligence service since March 2007.

Back then, operatives of the two intelligence services collaborated to arrest Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, a former Taliban defence minister and a close aide of the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Both Mullah Obaidullah and Mullah Baradar held supervisory positions in the 10-member leadership council which Mullah Omar set up in 2003 before going into hiding.

All major Taliban commanders in southern and eastern Afghanistan were asked to directly report to that council.

First-hand knowledge

But following Mullah Obaidullah's arrest in the city of Quetta in 2007, Mullah Baradar emerged as the man in charge of the Taliban's insurgency in Afghanistan.

This may indicate a serious move towards a negotiated settlement of the Afghan imbroglio

Such was his dominance over the movement that there was even speculation that Mullah Baradar may have either killed or scared Mullah Omar into permanent hiding in order to minimise any challenge to his authority.

As such, his arrest is seen by analysts here as a crucial intelligence breakthrough for the Americans.

According to analysts, Mullah Baradar not only has first-hand knowledge of the nature and the extent of the Taliban network in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he also knows details of their linkages with the Pakistani intelligence corps.

But will he talk? And how quickly can the Taliban shift positions to render his information obsolete?

These are difficult questions to answer.

We still don't know, for example, if Mullah Obaidullah conveyed any useful intelligence to his interrogators after his capture.

If anything, things in Afghanistan have grown worse since he was arrested more than two years ago.

Many in Pakistan believe Mullah Baradar's arrest has come at a bad time for Taliban, who were hoping to hold their ground against a major push by Nato forces as part of a strategy that would culminate in their ignominious exit from Afghanistan.

But some say the Taliban may yet regroup and deny the Americans a final victory.

'Brought in'

Another aspect of Mullah Baradar's capture revolves around proposed talks which Western commanders and the Afghan government hope to initiate with Taliban leaders who are willing to work within the framework of the Afghan constitution.

Pakistani soldiers
There may be a fundamental shift in Pakistani strategy

Some quarters here indicate that the arrest may have been "orchestrated" by elements within the Pakistani establishment to facilitate back-channel talks with "willing" Taliban commanders.

This line of thinking presupposes a scenario in which the Pakistanis "brought in" Mullah Baradar under a pre-arranged pact with the CIA to pave the way for negotiations.

If true, this may indicate a serious move towards a negotiated settlement of the Afghan imbroglio.

It may also mean a fundamental shift in Pakistani strategy - from promoting its own proxies in Afghanistan to seeking an arrangement that can have wider acceptance.

But if the arrest was purely the result of CIA intelligence-gathering, then it apparently leaves little room for the Pakistanis to do anything other than to tag along and satisfy the demand of the Americans for a joint operation.

In such a scenario, one can easily imagine the tensions it may have caused both within the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan and their Pakistani backers.

It may also prove highly embarrassing for the Pakistani government, which is extremely sensitive to allegations that it is Washington's poodle.

But at the moment there are more questions than answers surrounding this most murky of affairs.

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