Belmont Club

War and politics

The WSJ reports that US officials had to exert sustained pressure on Pakistani officials to mount a raid which netted the Taliban’s number 2 man, Mullah Baradar, who was operating the Quetta Shura Council from Karachi.


Pakistan’s capture of the Afghan Taliban’s operations chief came after months of U.S. pressure that involved showing officials details of intelligence that linked Pakistan’s spy agency to Taliban attacks in Afghanistan … As recently as October, an officer in Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that the Quetta Shura was an “American myth” and that no Taliban leaders spent any time in Pakistan.

According to the WSJ, General McChrystal overcame Pakistan’s reluctance to act by arguing that the Afghan Taliban were conspiring with the Pakistani Taliban to undermine Islamabad. After objections were removed Baradar was taken into custody. What stood between Mullah Baradar and capture was less a deficit in detection than a lack of Pakistani political will. “With ISI officers attending meetings of the top Taliban leadership, the Pakistanis couldn’t say they didn’t know where Mullah Baradar was, said a former Defense Department official.”

Bill Roggio explains that Taliban operations had long been headquartered in Pakistan. “The Afghan Taliban’s leadership cadre have long operated from within Pakistan. The Taliban’s leadership council, called the Quetta Shura, has operated from the Pakistani city of the same name for years, according to Afghan and US officials.” Pakistan had always denied it, but recent events have made it harder for them to plead ignorance. “Baradar’s arrest, if confirmed, creates problems for the Pakistani government. Numerous Pakistani government, military, and intelligence officials have repeatedly denied the existence of the Quetta Shura and have disputed claims that it had moved to Karachi.” Baradar is but one head of the snake. There are others. Roggio writes:


The Pakistani military has refused to take on the Haqqani Network, a dangerous Taliban group allied with al Qaeda and based in North Waziristan, and other Taliban leaders who support the fight in Afghanistan. The military has ruled out an operation in North Waziristan over the next year.

Pakistan’s long term game plan get the snake pit to clean up its act. The key to achieving this is to establish the idea of “good Taliban, bad Taliban”. By including some de-AlQaedaized factions in the political future of Afghanistan, the “good Taliban”, Pakistan assures itself of what a seat at the postwar table, what it called “strategic depth” on its Western border. India says it has been alone in rejecting this concept. An article in Foreign Policy by Kapil Komireddi in February of 2010 argued that Washington was determined to appease Pakistan whose main desire was to maintain an influence over Afghanistan after the US left. India, Komireddi said, was alone in opposing this strategy.

There was a lone dissenter at last week’s Afghanistan conference in London: India.

As representatives from more than 60 countries convened at the historic Lancaster House, New Delhi’s representative to the summit, Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna, emphasized to his British counterpart that it would be a monumental folly, at this juncture, to make a distinction “between a good Taliban and a bad Taliban” or to legitimize the former through reaching out. From India’s perspective, because the Taliban was originally an extension of Pakistan’s intelligence agency and because it has been used by Islamabad to mount attacks against India, there can be no “good Taliban.” … As control of Afghanistan is being gradually handed back to the Taliban, an increasingly alarmed New Delhi will start looking for ways to prevent trouble. …

What this means is that India, the only stable secular democracy in the region, is being actively prevented from helping in Afghanistan in order to appease the Pakistani regime, lest it re-enact the carnage that was visited upon Mumbai in 2008 and the Indian Embassy in Kabul in 2008 and 2009. Which raises the question: Is the U.S. objective in Afghanistan to oust the Taliban, or is it to secure the country for Pakistan? To New Delhi, the answer looks increasingly like the latter.


The scenario that Komireddi paints is one of a post-withdrawal Afghanistan in semi-trusteeship to Pakistan. Whatever President Obama’s exit strategy is, the Christian Science Monitor believes that Baradar’s capture may be part of it. Baradar’s value, the Monitor believes, is as a go-between to entice the other leaders to get on board a comprehensive settlement process. Unlike Komireddi, the CSM believed that the final shape of post-US Afghanistan had not yet been fully determined. In any event “the capture of Mr. Baradar, who could now possibly play a role in negotiating an end to the conflict, only hastens events that may make the path easier for US forces to leave.”

All these moves by India, Pakistan, and Karzai to maneuver for a post-US era still leave the question of what to do with the Afghan Taliban. The rising strength of the insurgency since 2006 means it likely can’t be defeated militarily but merely weakened enough to allow negotiations aimed at peeling off certain parts of its ranks.

But which parts? The US and India as yet don’t see the top Taliban echelon agreeing to three key terms: breaking ties with Al Qaeda, respecting Afghanistan’s Constitution, and renouncing violence. They see mainly local insurgents and regional commanders splitting off. And they don’t want the government in Kabul to make compromises that would set up a partially Islamic regime.


Clearly the Afghan War is tinged by more than its share of politics. Even in Washington and New York a political game is being played out. The BBC interviewed the New York Times to ask them why they so readily agreed to hold a scoop on Baradar’s capture at the request of President Obama whereas they vociferously objected to similar requests by President Bush.

BBC: So why did you decide to do this? You don’t always acquiesce to these kinds of requests. …

KELLER: Yeah, I think that’s kind of the thought process. What actually happened, was yesterday our stringers in Pakistan and Afghanistan started calling our bureaus there and saying, we’re hearing reports that Mullah Baladar is in Pakistani custody, we took that to the White House and they said, yeah we understand it’s not holdable anymore.

BBC: Right, so you published it. Now you visited the White House in 2006 while President Bush was in office and you were getting ready to publish a story about domestic wire tapping and very famously you were told if you published that story you’d have blood on your hands. Is that the kind of dire warning you got from the Obama White House?

KELLER: No, first of all this didn’t even get to my level, they dealt with Dean Baquet, the Washington bureau chief, I mean obviously if they felt they needed to call me, I’m always willing to take a call, but it didn’t even rise to that level. Back in 2006 the conversations were professional and civil, but in the end when we didn’t agree to hold the story as they wanted us to, it was a kind of firestorm of criticism from the White House aimed at the Times. So far anyway we haven’t had that acrimony with this administration, nor as far as I know have other news organisations.


Sometimes there’s just a meeting of the minds and there seems to be a mental accord between the NYT and the current occupant of the White House. Carl von Clausewitz argued that war is neither completely an act of force nor utterly governed by reason.  It is a combination of coercion and persuasion; a struggle of body and soul. But a struggle toward what end? Perhaps not even the current crop of politicians know what the consequences of their policies will be. But one thing is sure. There’s the can; and there’s the road.

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