5 Major Results of Top Taliban Commander’s Capture
Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 9:05 am
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy to Mullah Omar and commander of the Taliban’s military forces, was captured by U.S. and Pakistani intelligence in Karachi last week. The news has now leaked out. While you’re not going to see any Paul Bremer-esque “We got him!” preliminay end-zone dances, Baradar’s capture is a big deal for several reasons. Why not do this listicle-style?
See the list after the jump…
1. We’ll know how regimented the Taliban is, and how much pain it can withstand before it sues for peace. The Taliban isn’t a Western-style Army, but most military analysis views its military wing as possessing a hierarchical structure. Baradar, the defense minister in Taliban-run Afghanistan, is at its top. Losing him is probably something the Taliban have planned for at some point, and so now will come a test of how much operational, tactical and even strategic capability the Taliban fighters in southern and eastern Afghanistan lose — or don’t lose — now that he’s in custody. Taliban fighting prowess is likely to be a lagging indicator — by most accounts Taliban tactical commanders have a fair amount of regional autonomy, although their logistics trail looks less certain — but over the next weeks and months, if U.S. commanders don’t notice changes in Taliban fighting patterns, the Taliban will prove to be an even more resilient enemy than the U.S. previously thought. Those emergent patterns will go a long way to telling Gen. Stanley McChrystal how much momentum the Taliban can lose before changing its calculations about reconciliation with the Karzai government.
2. The Pakistanis will go after the Quetta Shura Taliban. Remember all those hand-wringing newspaper stories about the Pakistanis refusing to go after their old proxies in the Afghan Taliban? So much for that. Notice that Baradar wasn’t captured in the tribal areas, but in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi. That means he believed he could travel around Pakistan and be untouchable. No longer. If the so-called ‘Quetta Shura’ Taliban led by Omar thought the Pakistani military and intelligence service still had its back, that’s over, in a very dramatic way. And that almost certainly will impact Omar’s calculations on what the fight will require. Again, that’s not the same thing as expecting him to give up; just that the Taliban can no longer count on shelter by the Pakistani security apparatus.
3. The U.S-Pakistan relationship is working. Amb. Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, declined last December to publicly pressure the Pakistanis to go after the Quetta Shura Taliban. He said instead that a long-term relationship, with Pakistan confident that the U.S. was addressing its legitimate interests, would pay dividends. Here’s a very big dividend. The Baradar capture vindicates the Obama administration’s decision to hug Pakistan tightly, with a big new aid package and less public pressure, in the hopes of yielding complementary Pakistani security moves against the Taliban and al-Qaeda (more even than the bloody Swat and South Waziristan campaigns last year) down the road. If analysts were looking for a big, clear sign of Pakistani strategic intent — keep the Taliban on hand as an Afghan Plan B or throw in more heavily with the Americans? — here’s something big and clear.
4. Of course, Barack Obama is soft on terrorism. No, of course not really, but we’re sure to hear this from the Republicans. First Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is read his Miranda rights and treated humanely and — against every piece of conservative counterterrorism conjecture — he cooperates with interrogators. Then a former Bush speechwriter says Obama shouldn’t be killing so many terrorists with drone strikes; he should be capturing more of them. Well, look at what just happened! Which Republican will be intellectually honest enough to credit the Obama administration here? And who will jump to say the administration has just proved — somehow — it doesn’t know how to handle terrorism?
5. Will the Obama administration allow Baradar to be tortured? As I wrote on my personal blog, it’s crucial that the U.S. and the Pakistanis show that a high-level Taliban commander be treated respectfully if it hopes to induce more surrenders and impact the Taliban’s calculus on continuing to fight. Interrogations of Baradar are, reportedly, a joint Pakistani and U.S. venture. But the Pakistanis torture. Will the Obama administration, in its first big overseas capture, successfully convince the Pakistanis to treat Baradar humanely?
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