Two Taliban commanders based in southern Afghanistan have confirmed that the group’s second in command has been captured, but claimed he was detained during the Coalition offensive in Helmand province and not in Karachi.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Taliban’s operational commander and the top deputy to Mullah Omar, was reported yesterday to have been arrested by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency several days ago in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi.
Baradar has been a longtime leader in the Afghan Taliban and a close confidant of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the spiritual leader of the group. He is said to direct the Taliban’s Shura Majlis, or top leadership council. Baradar directed the Taliban’s day-to-day operations, and is in close contact with regional military commanders and the shadow governors. He also is said to control the Taliban’s purse strings.
Today Taliban commanders Abdul Qayum and Akhtar Mohammad confirmed that Baradar has been arrested, but denied he was captured in Karachi.
Baradar “was captured by foreign troops on Sunday, along with some of his bodyguards, during the operation in Marja,” Qayum told Bloomberg, referring to the ongoing operation to oust the Taliban from its stronghold in Helmand province.
Qayum may be none other than Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir, the Taliban’s “surge commander” who is directing operations in southern Afghanistan, although this cannot be confirmed. Zakir was released by the US in December 2007 and sent to Afghanistan, where he was subsequently released by the Afghan government. Zakir quickly rejoined the Taliban and took over operations in the strategic South.
Akhtar Mohammad also told Bloomberg that Baradar was captured by US forces during the operation in Helmand.
Qayum and Akhtar’s accounts contradict a statement by Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, who denied Baradar was in custody, immediately after the report of his capture.
“He has not been captured,” Mujahid told Reuters within hours after reports of Baradar’s arrest broke on Feb. 15. “They want to spread this rumour just to divert the attention of people from their defeats in Marja and confuse the public.”
The Taliban have long denied that their Shura Majlis, or executive council, is based in Pakistan. Instead, the Afghan Taliban have stated that their leaders are operating in Afghanistan as the Taliban control much of the country and there is no need to be in Pakistan.
Afghan and Western officials have long maintained, however, that the Taliban shura is based in the city of Quetta in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan. The Taliban council has even been nicknamed the Quetta Shura.
In the fall of 2009, reports surfaced that the Quetta Shura was being relocated to Karachi. The move occurred as the US was discussing expanding the deadly covert air campaign against the Taliban in the northwest to include the Quetta Shura. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) is said to have facilitated the move, and Mullah Omar was said to have relocated to Karachi months later.
The Pakistani government has denied that the Afghan Taliban are based in Pakistan, and said the Quetta Shura does not exist. Baradar’s capture in Karachi has cast further doubts on the Pakistani government’s claims.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, has called the report of Baradar’s capture “propaganda” and said no joint operation between the ISI and the CIA took place. He stopped short of denying that Baradar was in Pakistani custody, however.
“We are verifying all those we have arrested,” Malik told Dawn. If there is any big target, I will show the nation.”
“If the New York Times gives information, it is not a divine truth, it can be wrong,” Malik continued. The New York Times broke the story of Baradar’s capture.
“We have joint intelligence sharing and no joint investigation, nor joint raids,” Malik said, referring to the report that the CIA participated in the raid to capture Baradar. “We are a sovereign state and hence will not allow anybody to come and do any operation. And we will not allow that. So this [report] is propaganda.”