When American and Pakistani agents captured Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s operational commander, in the chaotic port city of Karachi last January, both countries hailed the arrest as a breakthrough in their often difficult partnership in fighting terrorism.
Baradar was the second-ranking Taliban leader after Mullah Muhammad Omar,. Both US and Pakistani officials claimed Baradar’s capture had been a lucky break. It was only days later, the officials said, that they finally figured out who they had.
Now, seven months later, Pakistani officials are telling a very different story. They say they set out to capture Baradar, and used the CIA to help them do it, because they wanted to shut down secret peace talks that Baradar had been conducting with the Afghan government that excluded Pakistan, the Taliban’s longtime backer.
In the weeks after Baradar’s capture, Pakistani security officials detained as many as 23 Taliban leaders, many of whom had been enjoying the protection of the Pakistani government for years. The talks came to an end.
The events surrounding Baradar’s arrest have been the subject of debate inside military and intelligence circles for months. But the account offered in Islamabad highlights Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan: retaining decisive influence over the Taliban, thwarting archenemy India, and putting Pakistan in a position to shape Afghanistan’s postwar political order.
A Pakistani security official said, “We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians.”
A senior NATO officer in Kabul said that in arresting Baradar and the other Taliban leaders, the Pakistanis may have been trying to buy time to see if President Obama’s strategy begins to prevail. If it does, the Pakistanis may eventually decide to let the Taliban make a deal. But if the Americans fail — and if they begin to pull out — then the Pakistanis may decide to retain the Taliban as their allies. Since 2001, the CIA and the ISI have maintained an uneasy relationship. They have cooperated on hundreds of operations and detained dozens of militants, but they have clashed over the ISI’s support for the Taliban.
As for Baradar, he is now living comfortably in a safe house of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Pakistani official said.