An old photograph of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former leader of the Quetta Shura who was detained in Karachi. Image from The New York Times.
The Afghan Taliban confirmed that the Pakistani government has released Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former deputy to Mullah Omar who was detained in Karachi in 2010 and placed in protective custody. While many officials and analysts are hopeful that Baradar can influence negotiations between the US and the Taliban, it is highly unlikely that he will be able to influence the current crop of Taliban leaders, who have waged a successful insurgency and control more ground in the country since any point during the war.
In a statement released on Voice of Jihad, the official website of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” the Taliban described Baradar as “the former deputy leader of Islamic Emirate, his excellency,” and hailed his “released from prison after spending nine years in Pakistani detention.”
The Taliban claimed that Baradar’s release from custody “was not the result of any sort of deal or mediation.”
Unsurprisingly, the Taliban statement is deferential to Pakistan and was not critical of the country for detaining Baradar for nine years. Historically, the Taliban has been unwilling to bite the hand that feeds. Pakistan has been providing the funding, safe haven, and other support to the Taliban that allowed it to both launch and sustain an insurgency after the US invaded and ousted the group from Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US.
Baradar was detained by a joint task force of CIA and Pakistani military intelligence during a raid in Karachi in Feb. 2010 and placed into protective custody. According to the Times, Baradar’s capture was “a lucky accident.”
It was thought that Pakistan was going to release Baradar in Sept. 2013 as part of an effort to facilitate putative peace talks between the US and the Taliban. However, he was never released and the Taliban denied that he was freed. The Obama administration was convinced the Taliban was beaten on the battlefield after the abbreviated US surge, and the time was ripe for negotiations. Instead, the Taliban used the hope of talks to get senior leaders freed from Guantanamo Bay and extract other concessions without ceding any ground.
Baradar’s release is highly unlikely to influence the Taliban’s stances on negotiations with the US. Baradar has been in Pakistani custody for nine years, and things have greatly changed since he was Mullah Omar’s deputy. The Taliban has had two leaders since Omar died in 2013. The current group of leaders is arguably more extreme than Omar’s cadre and has resisted the West’s attempts to negotiate a peace agreement in the past.
Mullah Haibatullah, the Taliban’s current emir, previously served as the group’s top judicial authority. In that position, he provided the religious justification for the Taliban’s military operations, including its use of suicide bombers, assaults, and other tactics, as well as approval for the Taliban to work with al Qaeda. His own son killed himself in a suicide attack, with Haibatullah’s permission.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, one of Haibatullah’s two deputies, is closely allied with al Qaeda and has served as the group’s military leader. His Taliban faction, the Haqqani Network, is considered the most radical and dangerous within the Taliban, which is no small feat. As military commander, Siraj is widely credited with engineering the Taliban’s highly successful operations which span the country.
Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, Haibatullah’s other deputy, is the eldest son of Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s founder and first emir. Yacoob, who along with his uncle, Mullah Abdul Manan, wields significant influence in the south and is considered to be just as extreme as his father was.
The Taliban’s current leadership has been steadfast in holding to the position that they will not negotiate directly with the Afghan government, which it views as “illegitimate,” “un-Islamic,” and a “stooge” of the West, nor will it share power. The Taliban has insisted that it will negotiate with the US, only in order to get the US and other foreign troops to withdraw. The Taliban has also refused to denounce al Qaeda.
Baradar has been in custody for over nine years and has been removed from the daily decision making of the Taliban’s Rahbari Shura, the top council more commonly known as the Quetta Shura. Additionally, his influence likely has wained within the Taliban as he has had limited contact with the leaders.
The Taliban, under Haibatullah’s leadership, has had great success in battling the Afghan government. The group is in its strongest position since it was ousted from power in 2001, and it believes victory is at hand. More than 60 percent of Afghanistan is currently contested or controlled by the Taliban, according to a study by FDD’s Long War Journal. Baradar, if he was inclined to do so, would have a difficult time convincing the Taliban leadership and military commanders that now is the time to cut a deal.
Given this, the question that must be asked is why would Pakistan free Baradar at this point in time? The likely answer is that Pakistan recognizes that Baradar won’t change the situation. Instead, his release is a gesture to the US and Afghan government, who continue to hold out hope for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. Pakistan has been masterful at doing just enough to give the appearance of furthering peace, all the while playing its double game of supporting the Taliban in the shadows.