Big Capture, Big Questions


by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

The capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar — the Taliban’s equivalent of Gen. Stan McChrystal — by Pakistani agents and CIA operatives is a big win.

Subordinate only to Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s CEO, Baradar ran the Taliban’s military operations in Afghanistan. Responsible for the upgrade in insurgent tactics — fighting smart, rather than just fighting — he also created the Taliban’s hearts-and-minds campaign.

For two weeks, he’s been under interrogation by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency. The CIA’s also involved in the questioning on some level — but the ISI always holds back some chips.

The grab won’t affect the ongoing fight for Marjah in Afghanistan, but the loss of Baradar’s operational savvy could degrade future Taliban operations. And if he sings — as we’re told he’s doing — it could be the biggest anti-Taliban bonanza since 2001.

Or maybe not. While it’s excellent news that Baradar’s been nabbed, his capture in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, raises questions Washington yearns to ignore:

* Why did the ISI and its overseers agree to bust him now? They’ve known his whereabouts for years — intermittently, if not consistently — just as they monitor the movements of most insurgent bigwigs.

* Did the Pakistanis act at last because the CIA cornered them into it? Or is this a deeper tale of rivalries, betrayals and Pakistan’s long-term ambitions? Perhaps Baradar was too effective a commander for Islamabad’s plans — or too independent for the ISI.

Reportedly, Baradar had been defying commands from Mullah Omar, who the ISI has backed for almost 20 years. Was this the intel equivalent of a gangland hit?

And what role did the other insurgent groups play? Pledged to cooperate with the Taliban, the savage Haqqani network based in North Waziristan is protective of its turf. Was Baradar’s growing power a threat to Maulavi Jalajuddin Haqqani and his bloodthirsty son, Sirajuddin? Did they rat him out?

Then there’s the Hezb-e-Islam, the durable mujaheddin outfit of warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a ruthless survivor of decades of Afghan conflict. He spent years fighting the Taliban (and just about everybody else), but has cooperated with the Taliban in the wake of 9/11 on the principle of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Behind his displays of Muslim piety, Hekmatyar’s an opportunist out for Hekmatyar. He’s also the figure the ISI is most confident it can control (the Taliban’s become annoyingly independent). The Pakistanis may foresee a deal between Hekmatyar and President Hamid Karzai, which would get the Americans out — then leave the hapless Karzai dangling from a lamp post like Najibullah, Moscow’s last man in Kabul.

To make that work, the Taliban would have to be under control: still a menace to Americans, but manageable for Pakistan, once our troops and NATO’s go home (the Obama administration would leap at the chance to recognize “Afghan reconciliation”).

This is a crime-family power struggle — “The Godfather,” AfPak style. The ISI may have pretended to roll over for us on Baradar, when Pakistan’s generals wanted him out of the picture, anyway. If he turns stoolie (angered by his betrayal) and the ISI finally does move against the Taliban, it signals they’ve tipped decisively toward Hekmatyar.

Or Baradar may not be talking. He’s one tough customer. Leaking news of his capture and that he’s blabbing may be a ruse to get other Taliban leaders to expose themselves as they scramble for new hide-outs.

Of course, the Taliban claims Baradar’s safe in Afghanistan.

My money says that the Pakistanis will turn out to be too clever for their own good (as always). Meanwhile, if we can capture — or, better, kill — some Taliban bigwigs because of the Baradar bust, well, Allah be praised! ExileStreet

NY Post / copyright 2010 NY Post

Ralph Peters’ new book, “Endless War,” goes on sale next month. Ralph Peters new novel, “The War After Armageddon,” is on the street. His most most recent non-fiction book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.” He is Fox News’ strategic analyst.

Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications.

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