Pakistan’s capture of the Afghan Taliban’s operational commander, in a joint operation with the CIA last week, reflects a markedly changed attitude toward an insurgent force that the country had allowed to operate with relative impunity for eight years.
As recently as last year, U.S. sources said, Pakistani intelligence officials were thought to be in direct contact with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, second only to Taliban leader Mohammad Omar in the insurgent hierarchy.
One source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about intelligence matters, said midlevel Pakistani officials had attended meetings with Baradar.
The Pakistani government and the Obama administration refused on Tuesday to publicly confirm Baradar’s capture in Karachi, and a Taliban spokesman denied it.
But officials and regional experts expressed hope that Pakistan’s decision to take action — long sought by the U.S. — was the beginning of substantive change in a relationship that has been fraught with mistrust and mutual suspicion. Some suggested it could prove a turning point in the Afghanistan war.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that increased engagement by the Obama administration had persuaded Pakistan to increase its cooperation and that Pakistanis’ “realisation of what was happening within their own country and the threat that it posed also played a big part in changing their actions.”
Pakistan last year began a series of major military offensives against the “Pakistani Taliban.”
The CIA has directed unmanned drones to fire missiles at the group's leaders in sanctuaries in the Federally Administered Tribal Area along the Afghanistan border.
But they resisted taking action against the Afghan Taliban, based in the southern province of Baluchistan, in an effort to preserve their influence in Afghanistan.
Using the leverage of billions of dollars in new U.S. aid, the administration has cited increased cooperation between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban to argue that increased cooperation was in Pakistan’s interest.
In Afghanistan, they warned, Obama’s new strategy was about to turn the tide of battle, and the Pakistanis needed to choose sides.
Pakistani officials portrayed the situation through the opposite side of the same lens, saying that the Americans had begun to realise Pakistan’s importance in the Afghan equation and the key role it could play in brokering any political settlement there.
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