There certainly is a lot of speculation about Pakistan’s arrest of Mullah Baradar, Mullah Omar’s deputy and the operational commander of the Afghan Taliban. Many seem to think that Pakistan has had a change of heart on the Taliban, and are now serious about taking on the Afghan branch. As I noted before, if so, then the ISI knows where the Quetta Shura is residing, and it could just go in and bring them in. So Baradar’s arrest raises more questions than it answers.
My colleague Arif Rafiq has the absolute best take on this over at the must-read Pakistan Policy Blog. (Note: Arif and I regularly participate on John Batchelor’s Afghan-Pakistani panel; in my opinion he is one of the few analysts who truly understands complex issues such as the nature of the Pakistani Taliban, and their links to the ISI and the Afghan Taliban). From The Pakistan Policy Blog:
In addition to having been provided an opportunity to diversify its contacts in Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army likely also feels a need to do so. In my previous post, I speculated that Kayani’s overtures to the Karzai government possibly contained the following “implicit message” to the Afghan Taliban: “you are not our only option, so don’t take us for granted.” And so the arrest of Baradar is perhaps part of an attempt by the Pakistan Army to induce behavioral change on the part of the Afghan Taliban, and particularly its obstinate leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar. These desired changes likely include: giving up maximalist goals, such as the re-establishment of an emirate; and clear movement toward the bargaining table with Karzai and away from al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. And equally important, as Afghans have engaged in a multitude of secret peace talks in the region, the Pakistan Army would like to ensure that it, to the exclusion of India, is part of the glue that holds together any power sharing arrangement in Kabul. In other words, it doesn’t want the Afghans to make their own peace and shut Pakistan out of the process. If Pakistan were excluded, then what was the trouble of the past eight years for?
If Baradar was arrested to send a message and give the Pakistani military leverage over the Afghan Taliban, then we may see the push for a negotiated settlement, brokered by the Pakistanis. This of course would allow Pakistan to maintain its strategic depth in Afghanistan.
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