Friday 5 March 2010

Pakistani crackdown on Afghan Taliban continues

The arrests of key Afghan Taliban leaders in Pakistan are continuing, with reports yesterday that the son-in-law of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the organisation's leader, was arrested in a raid on a house in the Ahsanabad area of Karachi.
Motasim Agha Jan, who was once in-charge of the Taliban's political affairs, was arrested along with several of his accomplices, official sources said, as part of an ongoing crackdown on the "Quetta Shura" and is the seventh senior leader to be arrested in Pakistan in the past two months.
According to Pakistani reports, he is believed to have led Taliban leaders in recent talks in Saudi Arabia. They says that initially he had insisted he was called Tayyeb Popalzai in an effort to hide his identity.
Others arrested in recent weeks include Mullah Abdul Ghani Barodar, considered to be Mullah Omar's deputy and head of the group's military operations, who was arrested in Karachi last month in a joint operation by the CIA and Pakistani intelligence agencies. Mullah Abdul Kabir, operational commander for the four eastern Afghan provinces of Nangarhar, Laghman, Kunar and Nuristan, was also arrested near the northwestern Pakistan city of Nowshera.
Mullah Abdul Salam and Mullah Mir Mohammad, the Taliban "shadow" governors for the northern Kunduz and Baghlan provinces respectively, were also arrested in Nowshera district.
Another Afghan Taliban leader arrested in Pakistan much earlier is Younis Akhundzada alias Akhundzada Popalzai. He served in important positions in the Taliban government in Afghanistan during 1994-2001 and was reportedly made "shadow" Governor of Zabul province. Mullah Syed Tayyeb Agha, former spokesman for Mullah Omar, too was arrested in the Saeedabad area Karachi on Monday, according to official sources. He was arrested along with Hakimuddin Mahsud, a close aide of former Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan leader Baitullah Mahsud. Hakimuddin had apparently moved to Karachi after Baitullah's death last August because he had reservations about the new TTP leadership created by Hakimullah Mahsud - now also dead.
It is now clear that many Afghan Taliban leaders moved to Karachi after US officials complained - and presumably provided evidence - that they were living in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province. Pakistan had previously insisted that Afghan Taliban leaders were not hiding in the country.
The capture of the senior Afghan Taliban leaders has sparked a row between the Pakistani and Afghan governments with Kabul demanding all the arrested militant leaders be handed over to its custody. So far Pakistan is refusing to do this, despite strong pressure from American diplomats.
The real question is what all these arrests mean. Are they evidence of a change in Pakistani policy towards the Afghan Taliban? Or, as some people are suggesting, is this evidence of a coup against a conciliatory faction within the Taliban, aimed at taking them out in order that hardliners can run the group unimpeded by those who want to negotiate with the Karzai regime?

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