Commentary Magazine


A Big Fish Caught in Afghanistan

No one should be fooled into thinking that the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s No. 2 commander, will end the insurgency in Afghanistan — any more than the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006 ended al-Qaeda in Iraq’s reign of terror. In fact (a sobering thought!), violence in Iraq only intensified after Zarqawi’s death, which occurred at the hands of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command, containing America’s top commando units. Nevertheless, Baradar’s capture, which was apparently carried out in Karachi by the CIA in cooperation with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, will deal a major blow to the Taliban, at least over the short term. His importance is summed up in this Newsweek article:

Baradar appoints and fires the Taliban’s commanders and governors; presides over its top military council and central ruling Shura in Quetta, the city in southwestern Pakistan where most of the group’s senior leaders are based; and issues the group’s most important policy statements in his own name. It is key that he controls the Taliban’s treasury — hundreds of millions of dollars in narcotics protection money, ransom payments, highway tolls, and “charitable donations,” largely from the Gulf. “He commands all military, political, religious, and financial power,” says Mullah Shah Wali Akhund, a guerrilla subcommander from Helmand province.

No doubt Baradar will be replaced but that will take a while and, in the meantime, Taliban operations will be disrupted just as the U.S. troop surge is getting underway and the offensive aimed at Marjah, a major Taliban stronghold in Helmand Province, is nearing the completion of its initial stages. The timing couldn’t be better. We can only hope that his interrogators make Baradar talk, which is probably more likely given that the ISI is not bound by the sort of restrictions on interrogation that the Obama administration has imposed on our own spooks. Nor, it should be added, will Baradar be read his Miranda rights — a sign of how differently we treat terrorists captured abroad compared with those who manage to make it to American soil.

Perhaps the most hopeful thing about Baradar’s capture is what it portends not about the future of Afghanistan but rather of Pakistan. Until now, Pakistani officials have been willing to go after the Pakistani Taliban, who pose a direct threat to their rule, while ignoring, or even subsiding, their Afghan brethren, who are seen as a tool of Pakistani foreign policy. Thus the Afghan Taliban have been allowed to operate with impunity in Quetta and other Pakistani cities. Let us hope that this operation signals a lasting change of attitude on the part of Islamabad. If it does, that will make the threat in Afghanistan much more manageable while also increasing the long-term prospects of defeating the Islamist insurgency in Pakistan.

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