Last Week in Af-Pak – A Beginning of The End Game or KSM Redux?

This past week in Afghanistan-Pakistan was a momentous one. It began with the arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taleban military commander believed to be the deputy to Mullah Omar. Such a man would know just about everything there is to know about the senior Taleban leadership.  Mullah Baradar was arrested in the southern city of Karachi. This shows how deeply the Taleban have penetrated into Pakistan. It is also rumored that the Taleban money is in Karachi Banks. So Baradar’s capture could lead to seizure of Taleban’s monies. 

Within days of this arrest, two other senior Taleban leaders were arrested inside Pakistan. These were Taleban’s shadow governors for two northern Afghan provinces; Mullah Abdul Salam of Kunduz and Mullah Mir Mohammed of Baghlan. According to the New York Times, these two arrests were apparently unrelated to Mullah Baradar’s capture.

                                     (A New York Times picture) 

Then on Friday, February 19, Pakistan announced that the Mohammed Haqqani was killed by a missile. Mohammed Haqqani was the younger brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the top military commander of Taleban in North Waziristan. The New York Times reports that Sirajuddin was actually the target of the attack. The Haqqani network was blamed for the suicide bombing attack against the CIA in which senior CIA operatives were killed. 

By any analysis, this was a successful week for the American military operation in the Af-Pak region. The question is whether this is a short term tactical victory or a the beginning of a long term turn in the war against the Taleban.

Why do we ask? Because this string of successes reminds us of another string of intelligence successes a few years ago. At that time, the arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (“KSM”) was considered to be a crippling blow to the Al-Qaeda -Taleban network. KSM was the military planner of the 9/11 attack on New York. He was reputed to be the number 3 in the Al Qaeda hierarchy with close ties to Osama Bin laden and Al-Jawahiri, the number 2 in Al Qaeda. KSM’s arrest yielded an intelligence treasure and did a great deal of tactical damage to the Al Qaeda-Taleban network.

But we know today that the arrest of KSM and a few other senior terrorists did little to hurt the Taleban in the long term. The Taleban grew from strength to strength from 2002 to 2009. This resurgence of Taleban prompted President Obama to commit to the current Afghan “surge”. During the past several years, it became obvious that elements of the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment were actually helping the Taleban rebuild. Whenever America put on a high degree of pressure on Pakistan, this establishment responded by publicly helping in the arrest of “senior” terrorists. This was in keeping with the public posture of Pakistan as America’s most critical ally in the War On Terror. It became obvious later that many of these arrests were in fact sacrificial lambs and behind the facade of these arrests, Pakistan continued to help the Taleban to get stronger.

This is why we raise the question whether this week’s actions are in effect KSM redux and simply a tactical accommodation to American pressure. We do not think so, because we dare say “this time it is different”.

The difference this time is that the end game has begun for the post-America control of Afghanistan. Such control is an absolute strategic necessity for the Pakistani Army, the Most Important Player (MIP) in the Af-Pak game. Such control requires the Pakistani Army to exercise serious operational authority over the Afghani Taleban network resident in Pakistan. Those who oppose Pakistan will be arrested and possibly shopped to America if they refuse to cooperate with the MIP.

This may be why Pakistan has refused to handover Mullah Baradar and the other Taleban leaders to the United States. On February 19, Pakistan’s interior minister Rahman Malik said that Pakistani authorities were still questioning these Taleban leaders to determine whether they had violated Pakistani law. He added that if they have not done anything wrong, they will go back to the country of origin or Afghanistan and not to United States.

This is not how a critical ally in the War on Terror behaves. So we ask whether a deal is being negotiated. Will the arrested Taleban leaders strike a deal with the Pakistani Army and agree to do its bidding inside Afghanistan? Or will the American Military agree to give the Pakistani Army what it desires inside Afghanistan in exchange for these prisoners & their intelligence?

This is the Af-Pak region and nothing is as it seems. As Daniel Markey, senior fellow for South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations told the New York Times  “The United States side is pretty worried about seeing a deal emerge that suits everyone other than us,”

We concur.

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