Why a lamb was sacrificed
The New York Times, which broke the story of the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, supposedly second only to Mullah Mohammed Omar in the Taliban firmament, says that it was the result of a joint US-Pakistani operation in Karachi last week. The news was kept secret in order to entrap other members of the Taliban leadership but was finally released to the public after “White House officials acknowledged that the capture of Mullah Baradar was becoming widely known in the region”—that is, after someone in Pakistan leaked it. [See analyses by M Ilyas Khan (‘BBC’), Amanda Hodge (The Australian) and Huma Yusuf (Christian Science Monitor)]
Now why was the poor Mullah ‘captured’? At an INI discussion this afternoon, we arrived at four potential answers.
First, given the fact that he was arrested in Karachi—and not Quetta, Peshawar or the tribal areas—it could well have been a CIA operation that led to his capture. Since it would be impolitic to present it as such, a convenient cover story of a joint operation becomes necessary. The fact that US operatives are interrogating Mr Baradar while he is in Pakistani custody supports this argument. If indeed it was a US operation that netted him, it would mean that the Obama administration has escalated covert operations in Pakistani territory to another level. Both Pragmatic Euphony and I lean towards this explanation.
Second, as Arif Rafiq of the Pakistan Policy blog has argued, Mr Baradar could have been sacrificed by General Kayani as a signal to Mullah Omar—that the Quetta Shura Taliban had better not stray too far from the line laid down by Rawalpindi. This might, for instance, require the Taliban to become more amenable to talks with the Americans and a deal with the Karzai government. Or it might actually be the opposite, as Mr Baradar was engaged in secret talks with the Karzai government and US forces. In any event, this explanation suggests that the Pakistani military establishment is using very strong tactics to coerce the Taliban.
Third, as my INI co-blogger Dhruva Jaishankar noted, it might well be that the Mr Baradar’s fate is similar to that of the several ‘right-hand men’ and ‘No 3’s’ that General Musharraf used to hand over to release some pressure that the United States exerted on him. While entirely plausible, it is unclear why the ‘capture’ should take place in Karachi—prompting uncomfortable questions as to who else is holed out in that city.
Fourth, just for the sake of analytical completeness, is the possibility that the Pakistani military establishment has decided to jettison the Quetta Shura Taliban. No, before you entertain wishful thoughts, this is not because of any ‘change of heart’ but because General Kayani might have calculated that this particular group is dispensable. It is the Haqqani militia that is Pakistan’s chief proxy in Afghanistan.