How exactly did the U.S. catch the Taliban's number two?

I’ve been thinking about it since last night. How could Pakistani intel be pressured into rolling over on a guy this big? What could we have offered them — or threatened them with? One possibility is that we followed the Hitchens plan and threatened to bring Pakistan’s archenemy, India, into Afghanistan if they didn’t start playing ball. Another possibility, per CBS, is that we promised draconian cuts in military aid if they didn’t at least help us catch a few big fish.

Any other possibilities? A clue , maybe, from Time:

The commander’s arrest would mark a significant departure from Pakistan’s policy toward the Taliban. Usually, Islamabad officials deny to the Americans that they know where the top commanders are hiding while letting them move freely among the Pakistani cities of Quetta, Peshawar and Karachi as well as the country’s tribal areas, where the jihadi fighters launch their attacks and suicide bombings against U.S.-led forces inside neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistani officials privately say they regard the Taliban in Afghanistan as a strategic asset in their regional rivalry with India, which supports President Hamid Karzai in Kabul…

Some Taliban contacts suggest that Pakistan may have had no option but to cooperate this time, since the CIA may have tracked down Baradar in Karachi on its own and pressured Pakistani spy agency the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to help pick him up. A senior Pakistani official told TIME that the CIA “pinpointed the general area” and that Pakistani intelligence on the ground made the arrest in the night between Feb. 10 and 11. Baradar was arrested in the slum town of Baldia, just outside Karachi, which is teeming with migrant Afghans and Pashtuns. The Pakistani official insisted that “this shows that Washington and Islamabad’s priorities are starting to match up.” U.S. officials have complained that past efforts to tip off the ISI to the locations of Taliban commanders yielded no action. Until Baradar was seized, no significant Taliban fighter had been arrested in two years in Pakistan. “All of the major Taliban commanders are in Pakistan,” a source close to the Taliban told TIME – an allegation that Islamabad loudly and persistently denies.

Remember that Newsweek story back in December about how Obama was considering drone strikes on Taliban chieftains in Pakistani cities? What if, as Time claims, the CIA came to him with info that Baradar was in a certain area of Karachi — and was suspected of being in a certain building, perhaps? It’d be a huge risk for the U.S. to take a blind shot at someone in a Pakistani population center, but it’d be a huge risk for Pakistan’s government too. The popular backlash would be directed at the U.S. but Islamabad would bear the brunt of the outrage. Given how desperately U.S. intel wanted this guy, maybe The One finally called Pakistan’s bluff and told them that either ISI can go in there, quickly and quietly, and snatch Baradar or we can go in there with Predators and make a mess of the whole place. Presented with that choice, Zardari and Kiyani may have figured that placating Obama was worth it. The downside of this approach, conceivably, is that it might be a one-time thing rather than some sort of sustained sea change in Pakistani behavior. We’ll know soon enough: Karachi is reportedly teeming with Taliban filth, so if ISI is in this for the long haul, we should see some other major arrests soon. If we don’t, look for news on the wire about India somehow increasing its role, financially or otherwise, in Afghanistan. That’ll prove that Pakistan’s not doing enough to please the White House and that Obama’s had to call their bluff (again?).

Exit question: Are we 100 percent sure this grab was made in Karachi? Two Taliban sources tell Bill Roggio that Baradar was indeed captured — by U.S. troops in Helmand province as part of the Marja offensive. Whether that’s a Taliban lie aimed at making Baradar’s disappearance seem more glorious or whether U.S. intel is fibbing about having its eyes on Karachi to spook the other Taliban honchos there, I don’t know. It’s likely the former — in which case, the fact that the CIA was able to pinpoint this guy in a place as hostile as Taliban HQ is even more impressive than it first seemed.

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David Strom 6:01 AM on June 06, 2023