Pakistani police reportedly have captured a senior Afghan Taliban leader behind attacks in eastern Afghanistan.
Anwarul Haq Mujahid, the commander of the Tora Bora Military Front, was detained during a raid in Peshawar, according to reports in The News and Pajhwok Afghan News. Mujahid was reportedly detained with his two cousins, Shumsul Islam and Dr. Qalandar, while he was in Peshawar for medical treatment. The Pakistani police, military, and government have not made an official announcement of Mujahid’s arrest.
Mujahid is the son of Maulvi Mohammed Yunis Khalis, a senior mujahedeen leader based in the eastern province of Nangarhar who was famous for battling the Soviet Union during the occupation from 1979-1989. Jalaluddin Haqqani, the leader of the deadly Haqqani Network, served as a commander under Khan.
Yunis Khalis was also instrumental in welcoming Osama bin Laden into Afghanistan after he was ejected from the Sudan in 1996. Haji Abdul Qadir, one of Khalis’ top three military commanders, was closely involved in facilitating bin Laden’s return to Afghanistan. Several years later, Khalis helped bin Laden again, laying the groundwork for his escape from Afghanistan through the Tora Bora Mountains in the battle of December 2001.
After rejoining the Taliban to battle the US, Khalis went into hiding. He died in July 2006 and was succeeded by his son, Mujahid, who also took control of the Hizb-i-Islami Khalis, a faction of the fractious Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan political party.
Mujahid established the Tora Bora Military Front, which he later publicized in February 2007 after his spokesman made an announcement. The group, which operates primarily in Nangarhar province, is responsible for several deadly attacks, including the April 2008 suicide strike and ambush against a drug eradication team operating in the district of Khogiani.
Nineteen Afghans, including twelve anti-drug policemen and seven civilians, were killed and 41 more were wounded after a suicide bomber detonated his vest and a Taliban assault team opened fire in the aftermath of the explosion.
The Tora Bora Military Front was also behind the complex ambush in March 2007 that targeted a US Marine Special Forces unit outside Jalalabad. A suicide bomber targeted the convoy, and then the Marines returned fire. The Marines reportedly killed several civilians in the ensuing fire. The incident prompted the US command to withdraw the Marine unit from the theater.
Pakistan has a poor record of holding Taliban commanders
While the detention of Mujahid would be a positive development for the security situation in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, recent history indicates that if he is detained, it may not be for long.
The Pakistani government has a poor record of keeping Taliban and al Qaeda commanders in custody. Many have been released in exchanges with the Taliban. Some have disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and others continue to run their networks from jail. The Afghan Taliban’s shura is known to be operating in Quetta, yet the Pakistani government has failed to move against them.
The government has released senior Afghan Taliban leaders such as Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, the Taliban’s former minister of defense and a member of the Shura Majlis, or executive council; Abdullah Mehsud, the late Taliban commander in South Waziristan who served time at Guantanamo Bay; Mufti Yousuf, a top Taliban leader in eastern Afghanistan; and Abdulrahim Muslim Dost, a former prisoner at the US military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, who serves as a propagandist.
Al Qaeda leader Rashid Rauf escaped from custody in what certainly was an inside job to have him released. And Omar Saeed Sheikh, the man behind Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl’s brutal murder, plots assassinations and runs his network from a prison in Lahore. Sheikh is said to have been behind the assassination of Major General Faisal Alavi, the former commander of Pakistan’s counterterrorism Special Service Group commandos.
Pakistan has also freed radical clerics Sufi Mohammed and Maulana Abdullah Aziz. Sufi leads the radical pro-Taliban group that brokered peace deals in the Malakand Division, while Aziz was the leader of the Red Mosque and the instigator of the July 2007 insurrection in Islamabad. And just a few days ago, Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Hafiz Saeed was released from house arrest as the government could not find sufficient evidence to hold him in prison.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.