Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Four Views On The Baradar Arrest (Okay, Five)

First up, me. My only point would be that every time some high-value target from the Taliban has been taken out or captured, we're told it represents some major success in the war. To be fair, I myself have made this claim in the past, notably when Baitullah Mehsud was killed. But you know what? The only metric that matters to me is the extent to which Pakistani civilians face indiscriminate violence from these groups, and history suggests that taking out their leaders seems to have scant effect on that measure. In fact, when Baitullah was killed, the amount of violence in the country increased, and that too significantly. Maybe this time will be different, and one certainly hopes so. But let's not confuse means with ends here -- getting them killed or captured is the former, getting them to stop killing is the latter.

Next, Juan Cole:
My own suspicion is that Mullah Baradar was behind the violence against Shiites in Karachi this winter. Provoking Sunni-Shiite violence so as to destabilize Pakistan's financial and industrial hub would be a typical al-Qaeda tactic. The bombings succeeded in provoking major riots and property damage. But when you hurt stock prices and harm government revenues, you rather draw the attention to yourself of the country's elite and their security forces, since you have mightily inconvenienced them. As long as the Old Taliban were mainly bothering the government of Hamid Karzai over the border in Afghanistan, the ISI might have been able to turn a blind eye to them. But if they were going to cause billions of dollars of damage to Karachi, which they did this winter, that is intolerable.

I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that Mullah Baradar's capture will destroy the Old Taliban. And even if that organization is weakened, there are at least three other major insurgent groups only loosely connected to them, which have the operational autonomy and resources to go on fighting.

But it is true that with the loss of the $200,000 a month the drug trade in Marjah was generating, and with the loss of some important commanders to drone strikes, the Old Taliban may be in a weakened posture compared to a year ago.

Then, Steve Coll:

Why would Pakistan move decisively against Afghan Taliban leadership now? The Times suggests that Pakistani generals under the lame-duck Army chief, General Ashraf Kiyani, are coming around to the view that they require a national-security doctrine that does not involve sheltering the Afghan Taliban. Perhaps. There are certainly new debates inside the Pakistani military and civilian establishment about such a change of course.

I would guess at a more subtle motivation, one that might suggest a favorable pattern now emerging in the Obama Administration’s and Central Command’s approach to Pakistan’s role in the Afghan conflict. Over the last few months, by multiple means, the United States and its allies have been seeking to persuade Pakistan that it can best achieve its legitimate security goals in Afghanistan through political negotiations, rather than through the promotion of endless (and futile) Taliban guerrilla violence—and that the United States will respect and accommodate Pakistan’s agenda in such talks. Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban, especially in recent years, was always best understood as a military lever to promote political accommodations of Pakistan in Kabul. Baradar, however, has defiantly refused to participate in such political strategies, as he indicated in an e-mail interview he gave to Newsweek last year. The more the Taliban’s leaders enjoying sanctuary in Karachi or Quetta refuse to lash themselves to Pakistani political strategy, the more vulnerable they become to a knock on the door in the middle of the night.

If, through a combination of pressure and enticement, Pakistan and the United States can draw sections of the Taliban into peaceful negotiations, while incarcerating those who refuse to participate, it will produce a sweeping change in the war.

Then, Arif Rafiq:

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?

The arrest of Baradar helps bring U.S. and Pakistan policy toward Afghanistan in closer alignment. The Pakistan Army is willing to work with Afghan moderates and, at the same time, retains significant leverage over the country’s insurgents. It has the capacity and willingness to engage, if not manage, a broad spectrum of Afghanistan’s major Pashtun actors — both “good” and “bad.” One would imagine that Pakistani diplomatic, military, and political officials are also engaging Afghan Tajiks and Uzbeks, particularly ex-mujahideen.

With its contacts, geographic location, and new-found “responsible” approach, it’s Pakistan — not Iran, India, or Russia — that is positioned to play the role of stability guarantor in a post-American Afghanistan, especially as it pertains to U.S. interests.

And finally, and most entertainingly, Rehman Malik, who claims it simply didn't happen.

Speaking to reporters outside parliament in Islamabad, the cabinet minister stopped short of either confirming or denying the media reports.

The New York Times and other US media cited US government officials as saying that US and Pakistani intelligence services arrested Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Karachi “several days ago”.

“We are verifying all those we have arrested. If there is any big target, I will show the nation,” Malik said.

“If the New York Times gives information, it is not a divine truth, it can be wrong. We have joint intelligence sharing and no joint investigation, nor joint raids,” Malik added.

“We are a sovereign state and hence will not allow anybody to come and do any operation. And we will not allow that. So this (report) is propaganda,” he added.

You've got to love being in a country where the arrest of a high-level Taliban operative is bad news, to be covered up and denied at all costs.


Anon_for_a_good_reason said...

Steve Coll's assessment seems implausible..that Afghan Taliban will be sold for securing a "future" hold in Kabul setup..if Pak gives up big fishes "now"..there wont be any cards to play..if top commanders are out of action..
Very likely this Baradar guy(a zero negotiation position fellow) was taken out of action for a few months( &outside Taliban decision making loop) rest of chain of commands can cover their tracks..and hand over this fellow for cash to Amrekans..

The downside to pressure strategy from Pak Army on "friendly Taliban" is that Al-Qaeda wont be sitting on their ass..If Mullah Omar faction transplants itself and sit on Al-Qaeda shura..and breaks cleanly from Pak Army..there would be TTP+QST to take care of..risky idea in short from an arm-chair strategist POV..Of course it is posssible that ISI/MI penetrated deep into Taliban command structure like LeT militias..and can take down when ever they want to..then all is fine..

Anon_for_a_good_reason said...

Having said that..I always for some reasons remember a quote from B-grade movie Solo(1996) when I hear about Govt ready to deal with Taliban etc..
Colonel Madden-
[to the rebel leader]

"First rule when dealing with the devil: don't."

[shoots him]

Mansoor said...

Arresting a top-leader of the militants is a big achievement because it does harm the spirit of these extremists. Even if this was possible not only through joint intelligence but by a joint operation, so much the better. The end result is that somehow we have to put an end to this wave of extremism that is harming us not only as a country but as a nation.

Anonymous said...

if they are captured, they revel in the time they can devote to god and worship in prison.

if they are killed they revel in the achievement of becoming shaheed, as they set out to do.

if they are free, they revel in the fight they carry on as instructed by god.

good luck to the pakistanis and any other american kiss-ups that merely try to fight this mentality without addressing the root causes.

Amna Zaman said...

@mansoor. Truly said. If the top Pakistani Taliban’s are killed then this would be discouraging for their followers because if you see these are the ones who have a lot of experience and follow the extremist ideology. U.S. has been the biggest donor to Pak Army for equipment and technology to protect the lives of our troops!

Butterscotch said...

Ahsan on an related note, i just went through your research on hayat khan sherpao's murder. Brilliantly written and very very informative
I was wondering if you could possibly take out some time in future and write something on bacha khan as well
A truly fascinating character in every aspect yet our new generation has absolutely no clue about him

Ammar said...

Interesting perspectives offered!
The arrest of the Afghan Taliban’s second in command Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar from Karachi is tactical gain if not a breakthrough in the war against terror. I agree with Arif’s analysis that this development will bring cohesion in US-Pak strategy to apprehend such elements and the mantra of Pakistan being soft on terrorist will stop for while. The strategy seems to be in the right place sort out the hardcore elements and give the moderates a chance to reintegrate.

AKS said...

Ahsan I'm totally with you on this, I'm tired of hearing of 'major blows' against the Taliban that in the longer run amount to nothing. To much importance is placed on the attack. The Taliban aren't going to roll over and die and nor is the Pakistani government isn't going to change its policy towards the Taliban. So can we all please just chill out.

One more thing, Cole, Coll and Rafiq, like many observers, treat the Pakistani security establishment as a uniform body and consider any action (such as the capture of this douche) as a shift in policy. The whole security apparatus in the country is a messy one and there is great divergence in intra-agency as well as inter-agency views. Who knows, the apparent shift in policy could be nothing more than a particular agency or particular faction of an agency exerting its influence, which is not that unfathomable considering 12 3 star generals including the head of the ISI and FOUR corps commanders are about to retire.

Umair Javed said...

well said AKS..

.the fact that parts of the intelligence and security establishment still seek to sift the bad taliban from the good taliban for the sake of their strategic prerogatives is just an indication of how little our policy planning has progressed from the late 80's.

As far as divergences of opinion within the service is concerned, thats hard to estimate because the army by its nature always presents a very unified front when dealing with strategic issues...but i'd want to believe that there is some internal dissent over our Afghan and taliban policy...there really needs to be an open discussion on what to do after the americans withdraw.

greywolf said...

every institution, except our parliament, every army, has internal dissent. the reason it is able to present a uniform front is that there is a discipline in the army about keeping internal dissent just that-internal. the reason for command and staff college and NDU is precisely this. the army analyzes, evaluates, and then makes a decision. as for good and bad taliban, the army stopped labeling 'good' and bad taliban several years ago. the only good taliban are the ones who are reconcilable. this has always been the policy. the only reason the army has decided to keep its foot in the door in afghanistan is not because it likes the taliban, but simply because the eastern front remains the army's primary concern-as explained by ashfaq kiyani himself. worrying about the western makes things all that more difficult, esp given what india is up to there. enough said.

Riaz Haq said...

The Afghan society is deeply divided along ethnic lines. Almost all of the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, part of the Northern Alliance, currently control Kabul along with a small Pashtun urban elite. The NA and its Pashtun allies have always been and continue to be friendly with India (and Russia and Iran) and oppose Pakistani influence in Afghanistan.

The rural Pashtuns, hated by NA and their urban Pashtun allies, have been friendly with Pakistan. The strongest rural Pashtun force is the Taliban, who are the key to peace in the region. Pakistan has to maintain close ties with them and use its influence to bring the war to end on terms favorable to Pakistan.

Smci said...

It'd be smart to reserve judgement at this point. We don't know enough about this character to know where he truly lied on the 'compromise' spectrum.

Just echoing what Ahsan, AKS and Umair stated; the parties, interests, and strategic outlooks involved are too entangled to be making wild predictions of this being a significant blow to the Afghan Taliban.

If Baradar was pro-compromise, as some of his previous interviews suggest, then perhaps he was betrayed by more hard-line elements in the Taliban or ISI? Although the same sources that bring forth this reading also affirm that Baradar was the final senior commander left in the Afghan Taliban shy of Mullah Omar. So... my guess is that everyone's sitting on the edge of their seat waiting for a tape, video, or proclamation from Omar from his drawn out sabbatical.

If on the other hand Baradar was, as stated by Arif, a committed "maximalist," then maybe it does suggest a strategic shift or 'show of good-faith' on the part of (at least some elements of) the ISI. In which case it's not clear exactly what dynamic is at work and what paradigm is going to emerge in a post-occupation Afghanistan.

To this point the thinking from the Pakistani perspective of protecting the Afghan Taliban was rather clear (no matter how absurd). But what does Pakistan gain from betraying them? Assuming ofcourse that we're still delineating between the AfTal and TTP. Have there been security guarantees to Pakistan to make a significant shift?

Anonymous said...

from the national review

Jaydev said...

Two more shadow governors "sold" to Americans
In Blow to Taliban, 2 More Senior Leaders Are Arrested
I am more worried what Americans have promised to "sell" to Pakistan in this barter system...for full top tier of Quetta Shura..Obama's tenure until now is totally forgettable(for all his flaws..W Bush got Saddam & his sons..) ..I am sure he is willing to pay a hefty save his face in "war of necessity"..:-(

Anon_for_a_good_reason said...

Just out of context question..
I am never able to resolve andrewsullivan blog of use to read it from google cache..though I am able to get and

Any other people have the same issue?
Is there a way to read Andrew Sullivan's blog from any other sources..I tried FireFox and Google Chrome to read it but can't

Anybody ...? Help!

Anon_for_a_good_reason said...

sorry wrong link..

Wyseguy said...

I don't think we've sold out the Quetta Shura/Mullah Umar. My guess about Baradar's arrest is that he was operating independently of Mullah Umar, promising Karzai his own deals, and so the Pakistani security establishment took him out of the game.

Here's the BBC on this matter:

Pakistan's Push for New Role in Afghanistan

I sincerely doubt that Pakistan has abandoned the Afghan Taliban. Juan Cole may have a point if it's true that this guy was behind the sectarian violence in Karachi, but that I doubt.

A Guess for the Future: Pakistan will secure Mullah Umar's co-operation for the stability of Afghanistan. In return Mullah Umar will be left as warlord of his own region. In return for Mullah Umar being left alone (the West is practically doing this) Pakistan will act as gatekeeper to Afghanistan and make sure that no specifically anti-West transnational Jihadis (read: Al Qaeda) enter Afghanistan. Pakistan already hates them now with all the damage they've caused its population. Mullah Umar will be asked to politely refuse any transnationals any assistance. In the mean time Pakistan causes these transnationals as much pain as possible. If they're Pakistani or Afghan Al Qaeda Jihadi's, they get normal law enforcement beat down treatment.
If their Arab or Western, they get "disapperaed". This is after all what bought the West here.