Tuesday 16 February 2010

Taliban badly hit by arrest of its military commander

The capture of Mullah Barodar Akhund, the Taliban's most senior military commander and generally reckoned to be second only to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, is a devastating blow to the organisation, possibily the largest set-back it has suffered in the last eight years.
He was picked up, allegedly in Karachi, in a joint US-Pakistan operation. The fact that US officials were involved suggests that Barodar was probably traced through his communications.
Barodar, whose real name is Abdul Ghani, was the Taliban's deputy minister of defence until the regime was toppled in 2001. Until his arrest he was in charge of day-to-day military operations and also Taliban finances. He was allegedly arrested more than a week ago, but the story only broke yesterday.
He belongs to the Popalzai tribe of Pashtuns, the same as President Karzai, but little else is known about him. No picture has ever been published of him, although he is believed to have direct contact with Mullah Omar. Doubtless his interrogators will be attempting to find out all they can about Mullah Omar's recent movements.
In his most recent interview, given at the end of December, Barodar told the Afghan Islamic Press that 2009 was a very successful year for the mujahideen. "The casualties and financial and losses they inflicted on the invaders could be found in reports, speeches and announcements of the Pentagon and other Western sources, who said the casualties of the past seven years has been equal to the losses and casualties of the current year. That means the current year has been the bloodiest year full of calamities and fears for them in the past eight years which is a great achievement of the mojahedin."
He declined to be drawn on the question of the Taliban's relationship with al-Qaeda, simply saying that no-one in Afghanistan would be allowed to use the country to prepare attacks on a third country. He said it made no sense to talk about 'good' Taliban and 'bad' Taliban.
Then again, He also denied that any of the Taliban leadership was in Pakistan.
There is already speculation that Barodar's arrest may have been facilitated by the Pakistani military because he is in favour of negotiations. Arresting him in this way - just before the beginning of Operation Moshtarak - could be a way of Pakistan showing that it can play a role in facilitating negotiations with the Taliban leadership.
Certainly it is hard to explain why they should have allowed the arrest to take place otherwise, as they have made it clear in the past that the Afghan Taliban leadership is under their protection. For example, the Pakistanis would not allow drone strikes anywhere in Baluchistan, but particularly in Quetta where much of the Taliban leadership resides.

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