In a news exclusive Wednesday, the Christian Science Monitor reported that Pakistan has arrested “nearly half of the Afghanistan Taliban’s leadership in recent days.” Pakistan intelligence officials told the Monitor that 7 of the 15 members of the Quetta Shura are now in Pakistani custody, four more individuals than has been reported in the news so far. “This is the first confirmation of the wider scale of the Pakistan crackdown on the Taliban leadership, something the U.S. has sought,” the Monitor noted.
The arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Karachi February 6, the Afghan Taliban’s second-in-command, garnered much news coverage, as did the more recent capture of Maulvi Abdul Kabir, a prominent commander in charge of insurgent operations in eastern Afghanistan, and Mullah Muhammad Younis. According to the Monitor, though, Pakistan has also arrested other Afghan Taliban militants from the Quetta Shura, including Mullah Abdul Qayoum Zakir, who oversees the movement’s military affairs, Mullah Muhammad Hassan, Mullah Ahmed Jan Akhunzada, and Mullah Abdul Raouf.
This development is significant because it points to a wider crackdown by the Pakistani military on the Afghan Taliban. Yesterday, Spencer Ackerman over at the Washington Independent quoted Defense Secretary Robert Gates saying,
I would say that what we are seeing is the importance of operations, on both sides of the border, and a manifestation of real progress, on the Pakistani side, of dealing with the threats that I’ve talked about; whether they’re the Pakistan Taliban, the Afghan Taliban or al Qaeda, that they all work together, and the success of one is success of the rest. So I think that the recent events have been another positive indication of the Pakistanis’ commitment to stabilizing this border area.
There has been increasing debate over these recent arrests, and whether it truly represents increased U.S.-Pakistan cooperation. In a Foreign Policy piece entitled, “Three Huge Ways Pakistan Still Isn’t Cooperating,” David Kenner wrote after the capture of Baradar,
The most optimistic explanation is that the ISI thinks the Afghan Taliban has become a threat to its interests in Pakistan, and has decided to move against the group. But [Teresita] Schaffer also floated another, less cheerful, possibility: Baradar, as suggested by this Newsweek profile, is more open to negotiations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai‘s government than some of the Taliban hierarchy’s hard-line members. The ISI could have arrested him in a bid to thwart negotiations meant to assimilate the Afghan Taliban back into Afghanistan’s political fold, which would likely cost Pakistan its influence as the group’s patron. In other words, given the information available to the public, the Pakistanis could have arrested Baradar with the hopes of halting Taliban attacks against NATO forces in Afghanistan — or they could have arrested him in an attempt to continue those attacks.
The Christian Science Monitor offers a somewhat similar explanation for the sudden shift, noting the aforementioned crackdown may to be related to efforts by some Taliban leaders to “explore talks with Western and Afghan authorities independently of Pakistan.” The Monitor cited a UN official, who added, “Pakistan wants a seat at the table [at the negotiations]. They don’t want the Taliban to act independently.”
Arif Rafiq, over at the Pakistan Policy blog, (via Five Rupees), further noted, “And equally important, as Afghans have engaged in a multitude of secret peace talks in the region, the Pakistan Army would like to ensure that it, to the exclusion of India, is part of the glue that holds together any power sharing arrangement in Kabul. In other words, it doesn’t want the Afghans to make their own peace and shut Pakistan out of the process. If Pakistan were excluded, then what was the trouble of the past eight years for?”
Ultimately, the increased arrests by the Pakistani military do represent a shift in greater U.S.-Pakistan intelligence sharing and cooperation. However, it would be naive to suggest that this was done to further American aims and strategic objectives. Quite the contrary. It’s to ensure Pakistan’s interests in the region are protected. The Army went against the Pakistani Taliban because its militants were attacking the state and harming Pakistani civilians. While the perceived crackdown on the Afghan Taliban is garnering similar results, the motivation and desired end are quite different.
At the end of the day, should Washington care about these motivations if it means Pakistan cooperates?