As several people have pointed out, the capture last week in Pakistan of key Taliban figure Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is a coup for the United States and its allies in Afghanistan. Coming just as President Obama’s Afghan surge is beginning to bear fruit, with key operations underway in Helmand province, Baradar’s capture will hopefully lead to new intelligence that will allow Pakistan and the United States to decapitate the Taliban’s leadership in Pakistan, just as coalition forces are putting the Taliban on the run across the border in Afghanistan.
That said, a few cautionary notes and thoughts about the implications of Baradar’s capture:
First, although it is a positive sign that the operation was reportedly a joint U.S.-Pakistani one, we shouldn’t assume that Islamabad and Washington are on the same page about how to handle the Taliban and associated militants remaining in Pakistan. The Pakistanis made great strides in 2009 with their offensive in South Waziristan, but the takedown of one Taliban leader does not mean that they are completely committed to rooting out those that remain around Quetta and other location that pose a threat to U.S. forces in Afghanistan as well as to the stability of Pakistan and the security of its nuclear stockpile. We should be wary of the Pakistanis’ motives for this sudden assistance and their long-term intentions.
Second, the arrest raises some key questions for this administration about its detainee policies even as the debate over failed Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab continues. Over the weekend, a Washington Post article raised questions about whether the Obama administration was shying away from capturing wanted terrorists instead of killing them. Their hand may have been forced in this case by the fact that Baradar was in Karachi, beyond the zone that U.S. drones have frequented, but they are now faced with difficult questions about how he will be handled. The New York Times reports that he is in Pakistani custody but is being questioned by both Americans and Pakistanis. Why should Baradar be treated any differently than someone such as Ramzi Binalshibh, who was captured in the very same Pakistani city in 2002 and is now at Gitmo? Does the administration intend to let the Pakistani justice system run its course or do they plan to bring Baradar back to American soil for prosecution?
Finally, the arrest validates the Afghan strategy pursued by President Obama despite opposition from some in his administration, such as Vice President Joe Biden, who argued that the Taliban were not the real enemy and that we should limit U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and essentially cede parts of the country to their control. Baradar and his Taliban colleagues have the blood of Americans and innocent Afghans on their hands and should be treated accordingly. We will not be successful until the Taliban is defeated and the Afghan people spared the intimidating and medieval rule of the Taliban, and this capture will hopefully help make that happen.
— Jamie M. Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.