For the Night of 16 February 2010
North Korea: For the record. Kim Chong-il is 68 today.
Pakistan: Interior Minister Rehman Malik today called propaganda reports that the Taliban military head had been arrested, but stopped short of confirming or denying media reports, Dawn News reported. He told reporters outside parliament that if there is a major arrest, he will announce it, saying that there has not been joint intelligence gathering or raids with the United States, as has been reported
Afghanistan: The New York Times report that Mullah Berader was captured and is in custody has generated multiple contradictory statements. The initial Times report stated the Taliban's top military commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, (also romanized as Berader) was captured several days ago in Karachi, Pakistan in a secret joint operation by Pakistani and American intelligence forces, according to unidentified American government officials.
Berader reportedly has been in Pakistani custody for several days. American and Pakistani intelligence officials have both been taking part in interrogations. The New York Times learned of the operation 11 February, but withheld publication at the request of White House officials.
One Afghan Taliban spokesman denied the report. A subsequent statement by a different spokesman confirmed Berader's capture, saying U.S.-led forces in southern Afghanistan seized him, Bloomberg reported. A senior Taliban commander in the south of Afghanistan, Mullah Akhtar Mohammed, confirmed Berader's capture.
Mullah Abdul Qayum, a Taliban commander who also spoke by phone from an unspecified place in Afghanistan, said Berader "was captured by foreign troops" on 14 February with some of his bodyguards, during the operation in Marjah, Helmand Province.
The Taliban denied that Berader was captured, according to Reuters. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Berader was still in Afghanistan actively organizing the group's military and political activities.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik labeled propaganda reports that the Taliban military head had been arrested, but stopped short of confirming or denying media reports, Dawn News reported. He told reporters outside parliament that if there is a major arrest, he will announce it, saying that there has not been joint intelligence gathering or raids with the United States, as has been reported.
Comment: Berader's so-called arrest was the major news item from South Asia and the most confusing. If confirmed, it is potentially an important development. On the other hand, Berader supposedly has been killed thrice and capture twice before. A few points are worth making at this time on the reports today.
The Bloomberg report that Berader was captured in Marjah is nonsense. No Afghan leaders of significance have been in Marjah\ for weeks. The skirmishing there is a rear guard action, not a defense of territory.
It remains important to not underestimate the sophistication of one's enemy. Despite their lack of powerful, modern weapons, the Taliban fighters are not inferior in tactical ability or problem solving skills to anyone. Berader was not in Marjah.
Many news services reported that Afghan Taliban leaders moved from Quetta in Baluchistan to Karachi in Sindh Province after the US leaked that it might begin drone attacks against the Quetta Shura, Mullah Omar's collective advisory body.
Accounts that Pakistani intelligence was involved are credible. Less credible is that CIA was involved in any substantial manner. The Afghan Taliban leadership fled to Pakistan in 2001 and have lived under the protection of Pakistani intelligence ever since. In Pakistan, this is an open secret.
According to various news services, much of Karachi is populated by Afghan Pashtuns so that Karachi is a plausible refuge for Afghan Taliban leaders. Reuters reported Berader was taken in Karachi. His presence in Karachi is more credible than that he was anywhere in Afghanistan.
The significance of Berader's capture is difficult to evaluate. Some news services reported that the capture might be a subterfuge to hide that a senior Afghan Taliban leader is in negotiations with US emissaries and with Pakistani good offices. The contradictory view is that Berader is not likely to be Omar's emissary for negotiating a power sharing arrangement.
Assuming Berader is in custody, protective or punitive, his arrest by the Pakistanis tends to confirm that the Afghan Taliban leadership operates in Pakistan with the knowledge, if not the approval, of Pakistani intelligence. They could have delivered Berader or even Omar years ago. This should be sobering news for Afghan Pashtuns in Karachi.
For US-Pakistani relations this presumed arrest is great news that takes some pressure off Pakistan to do more against the Taliban. Any Pakistani operations against the Afghan Taliban must be considered suspect because Pakistani leaders show no signs they have abandoned 20 years of investment supporting a pro-Pakistani Taliban government in Kabul. This means that the allegations that Pakistani intelligence captured Berader cannot be taken at face value.
This will be a continuing story.
Syria-US: Update. US President Obama formally nominated career diplomat Robert Ford as the first American ambassador to Syria in five years. The reconciliation just moved forward one step.
End of NightWatch for 16 February.
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