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Could Baradar’s Arrest Damage Taliban Reconciliation Efforts?

The New York Times has a (somewhat disorganized) story co-written by its very knowledgeable reporter Carlotta Gall that suggests the arrest of top Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar by a U.S.-Pakistani team last week might convince the Taliban that there’s no hope in peace talks with the Karzai government in Afghanistan. While there’s a bunch of contrary evidence in the piece as well, a number of sources ostensibly close to the Taliban say that Baradar, who was reportedly in the peace camp within the Taliban’s inner circle, represented the best chance of bridge-building between the old and new Afghan governments. Alternatively, the piece reports, Pakistanis — who apparently aided in the arrest out of pique over being shut out of negotiations with the Taliban (which may not be happening!) — may have taken in Baradar precisely to negotiate with him, or to send a message to the Taliban through Baradar. (Although a U.S. official derides this as a “conspiracy theory.”) Confused yet?

The explanations are not necessarily mutually exclusive. But they may be less important than their effects. Consider this quote:

“Mullah Brother can create change in the Taliban leadership, if he is used in mediation or peace-talking efforts to convince other Taliban to come over, but if he is put in jail as a prisoner, we don’t think the peace process will be productive,” said Hajji Baridad, a tribal elder from Kandahar.

If so, simply keeping Baradar in prison and using him for intelligence on Taliban whereabouts would be a short-sighted gambit. Separating detentions from diplomacy usually turns out to be a mistake, as the British remember from their unhappier times in Ireland.

By the way, the Obama administration, the military and the CIA isn’t saying a word about Baradar on the record.

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