Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.
The arrests of more than a dozen Taliban leaders, including known associates of Osama bin Laden, came as militants fought to keep a grip on their southern stronghold of Marjah…
Some of those apprehended included key figures in the Afghan insurgency, while others are members of militant groups that operate just across the border in Pakistan.
Among those arrested were Ameer Muawiya, a bin Laden associate who was in charge of foreign al-Qaida militants in Pakistan’s border areas, and Akhunzada Popalzai, also known as Mohammad Younis, a one-time Taliban shadow governor in Zabul province and former police chief in Kabul, according to Mullah Mamamood, a tribal leader in Ghazni province.
Others captured in Karachi included Hamza, a former Afghan army commander in Helmand province during Taliban rule, and Abu Riyad al Zarqawi, a liaison with Chechen and Tajik militants in Pakistan’s border area, Pakistani officials said.
Also among the captured: Mullah Mir Mohammed, the second Taliban “shadow governor” to be pinched by Pakistan in the past few weeks. A senior U.S. official told the Times that Mohammed’s capture was unrelated to the capture of Mullah Baradar, the Taliban’s number two, and he’s probably telling the truth. According to a new AP report, Baradar has tons of info about the Taliban but has provided “limited information” thus far.
Or has he?
Senior government officials claimed both Mullah Baradar and those arrested with him were giving information they believed would lead to others in the Taliban’s new Karachi and Sindh headquarters. They are understood to be in the custody of the country’s ISI intelligence agency in the city.
“We’re now confident we can bust the whole network they’ve established in Karachi and Sindh. We’re expecting some more arrests in the days to come,” a senior military official told The Daily Telegraph.
Another AP report claims Baradar has provided “useful” information. The $64,000 question remains why Pakistan is suddenly so intent in rolling these guys up. I’ve been speculating about sticks and carrots that Obama might have used to get them to cooperate, but maybe neither are the case. Maybe instead Pakistan feared that the Taliban was about to go rogue by striking a peace deal with Karzai that would have reduced Islamabad’s influence inside the country to an unacceptable degree. (Baradar is reputed to be open to negotiations.) For more on that possibility, I recommend J.E. Dyer’s post this morning in the Greenroom. If his/her theory is correct, we’ve now reached a surreal moment in which Pakistan is pursuing the Taliban for possibly being too friendly to the United States. More from CSM:
Details are emerging that Pakistan feared losing influence within peace overtures between the United States and the Afghan Taliban. It may have nabbed Baradar so it would control the strongest potential peace negotiator, while currying US favor with its multiple arrests. But experts on the Taliban are divided over whether the country’s recent intervention has moved Islamabad to the center of peace talks – or scuttled them entirely.
“There were reports that Mullah Baradar had been in covert contact with the Americans, and that may not have gone down well with certain people in Pakistan,” says Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan now based in Peshawar. “The Taliban’s trust of the Pakistani government is now absolutely finished [and] the prospects for any negotiations are now completely dim.”…
But Mohmand doubts such fear could be used at this point by Pakistan to broker a peace deal. Trust is gone, and few potential peace partners of Baradar’s stature remain within the Taliban. While some analysts have suggested Baradar could be turned – or had possibly agreed to be captured so he could broker talks – Mohmand says he’s damaged goods.
Exit question: If this is all a ploy by Pakistan to restore its leverage over the Taliban when negotiating with Karzai, why start rounding up lower level Al Qaeda capos? Why not just go get Mullah Omar and Bin Laden and Zawahiri and lean on them?