5 years ago
Of the recent capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Dana Perino and Bill Burck observed:
Today, the Times is reporting that the real story behind Baradar’s capture is that Pakistan wanted to gain a place at the table in negotiations between the U.S. and Karzai and the Taliban.
Specifically, Baradar, it turns out, was one of Karzai’s main contacts with the Taliban for years, and he was at the center of efforts to negotiate a peace with the Taliban. Pakistan was frustrated at being excluded from the talks, so it snatched up Baradar to gain an advantage.
The Times quotes an unnamed American intelligence official: “I know that our people had been in touch with people around [Baradar] and were negotiating with him. So it doesn’t make sense why we bite the hand that is feeding us. And now the Taliban will have no reason to negotiate with us; they will not believe anything we will offer or say.” If this is true, then the capture of Baradar is not exactly what it first appeared. And if Baradar was as central to Karzai’s and America’s efforts to negotiate with the Taliban as the article suggests, then there appears to be significant costs to the capture. Perhaps it was even unhelpful to Karzai and the U.S.
Does capturing Baradar really further U.S. strategy? (Perhaps the administration did not view him as a valuable contact and thought he would be more useful in custody and subject to interrogation.) Or does it actually harm U.S. strategy? Was it forced on the Obama administration by the Pakistanis? If so, does the administration’s triumphant tone reflect its true feelings about the importance of capturing Baradar, or is it a smokescreen?
The fact that the New York Times, not known for its strength of objectivity in covering the Obama administration, is reporting this suggests to us that there’s a better-than-even chance that the administration is trying to turn a lemon into lemonade.
So this analysis relies on the notion that this is more Pakistani duplicity. Ralph Peters, on the other hand, sees the world with much more intrigue (I must quote at length).
The capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar — the Taliban’s equivalent of Gen. Stan McChrystal — by Pakistani agents and CIA operatives is a big win.
Subordinate only to Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s CEO, Baradar ran the Taliban’s military operations in Afghanistan. Responsible for the upgrade in insurgent tactics — fighting smart, rather than just fighting — he also created the Taliban’s hearts-and-minds campaign.
For two weeks, he’s been under interrogation by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency. The CIA’s also involved in the questioning on some level — but the ISI always holds back some chips.
The grab won’t affect the ongoing fight for Marjah in Afghanistan, but the loss of Baradar’s operational savvy could degrade future Taliban operations. And if he sings — as we’re told he’s doing — it could be the biggest anti-Taliban bonanza since 2001.
Or maybe not. While it’s excellent news that Baradar’s been nabbed, his capture in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, raises questions Washington yearns to ignore:
* Why did the ISI and its overseers agree to bust him now? They’ve known his whereabouts for years — intermittently, if not consistently — just as they monitor the movements of most insurgent bigwigs.
* Did the Pakistanis act at last because the CIA cornered them into it? Or is this a deeper tale of rivalries, betrayals and Pakistan’s long-term ambitions? Perhaps Baradar was too effective a commander for Islamabad’s plans — or too independent for the ISI.
Reportedly, Baradar had been defying commands from Mullah Omar, who the ISI has backed for almost 20 years. Was this the intel equivalent of a gangland hit?
And what role did the other insurgent groups play? Pledged to cooperate with the Taliban, the savage Haqqani network based in North Waziristan is protective of its turf. Was Baradar’s growing power a threat to Maulavi Jalajuddin Haqqani and his bloodthirsty son, Sirajuddin? Did they rat him out?
Then there’s the Hezb-e-Islam, the durable mujaheddin outfit of warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a ruthless survivor of decades of Afghan conflict. He spent years fighting the Taliban (and just about everybody else), but has cooperated with the Taliban in the wake of 9/11 on the principle of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Behind his displays of Muslim piety, Hekmatyar’s an opportunist out for Hekmatyar. He’s also the figure the ISI is most confident it can control (the Taliban’s become annoyingly independent). The Pakistanis may foresee a deal between Hekmatyar and President Hamid Karzai, which would get the Americans out — then leave the hapless Karzai dangling from a lamp post like Najibullah, Moscow’s last man in Kabul.
To make that work, the Taliban would have to be under control: still a menace to Americans, but manageable for Pakistan, once our troops and NATO’s go home (the Obama administration would leap at the chance to recognize “Afghan reconciliation”).
This is a crime-family power struggle — “The Godfather,” AfPak style. The ISI may have pretended to roll over for us on Baradar, when Pakistan’s generals wanted him out of the picture, anyway. If he turns stoolie (angered by his betrayal) and the ISI finally does move against the Taliban, it signals they’ve tipped decisively toward Hekmatyar.
This is a lot of complex intrigue, but a cursory review of my advocacy shows that not only have I not supported “negotiations” with the Taliban, I have not supported the same with Hekmatyar. It may take a long time for the truth to be told concerning this capture and surrounding events – or, we may never know the complete truth. Either way, I still don’t buy into the notion of the high value of high value targets.
I see all of this mainly as a momentarily intriguing distraction. We might get some good intelligence for a while, at least until his knowledge base becomes dated and useless. The Pakistani ISI (and some Army) is duplicitous, regardless of whether Peters’ account is correct. Hekmatyar is trouble, and negotiations with him will come to no good end. Anyone in Mullah Omar’s circle cannot be trusted, and negotiations with his shura will come to no good end.
If the sum total of Baradar’s capture is to end these juvenile and ill-conceived negotiations with the Taliban and ensure that they don’t trust us, then so much the better. As I said before, I’m in the school which advocates killing the enemy in large numbers.