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The top military commander and number two of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Baradar, was reportedly detained in a joint raid by US and Pakistani security agencies in Karachi some days ago.
A Taliban attack on a shopping center in central Kabul
The governor of Afghanistan's Kunduz province told journalists on Thursday that two more high-ranking Taliban leaders had been arrested in Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam and Mullah Mir Mohammad.
But there has been no official confirmation for this from Pakistan, and the Taliban have rejected these claims.
No direct impact on military situation expected
Most analysts agree that all these arrests won't have any immediate fallout on the ongoing anti-Taliban offensive in Afghanistan's Helmand province.
Pakistan's army has been on the offensive against the Taliban in Pakistan
Paul Rogers, an expert on the region at Bradford University in the UK, doesn't expect any major impact in the short term. "It may have some impact in terms of morale, but there are very strong local elements that will carry on more or less as before. In any case, I think it is highly likely that Mullah Baradar has already been replaced by a younger and possibly recent combat-experienced leader."
But Baradar's arrest in Pakistan is highly significant, especially with the cooperation of the Pakistani authorities, being that the Pakistani security establishment has traditionally backed the Afghan Taliban, even as the army has stepped up operations against their offshoot, the Pakistani Taliban, in the border region. There have been many reports that the Afghan Taliban leadership is based in Pakistan and runs the so-called Quetta Shura, or council, there.
Some observers see the arrest as an indication that Pakistan may have changed course, possibly under US pressure. Others, however, point out that Mullah Baradar reportedly was not on good terms with the Pakistani army anyway.
Taliban supremo Mullah Omar, the Big "Baradar"
Rogers says, "it could be personal. I find it very difficult to envisage any real change in attitude among the Pakistani military and civil elite over what is happening in Afghanistan. Their bottom line very much is that Pakistan must retain the maximum influence in Afghanistan."
Pushing the Taliban towards negotiations?
Another interpretation put forward is that Pakistan might want to put pressure on the Afghan Taliban to enter into talks with the Karzai administration because a negotiated settlement could help Islamabad gain a foothold in Afghanistan. Expert Paul Rogers explains,
"it's possible they have now taken the calculation that this is the time to promote negotiations - now that the Obama administration, whatever its military surge, does recognize this is not a war which can be fully won in the conventional sense. So this may be part of a much bigger game plan. But this is to some extent speculation, and we are really in the fairly early days of seeing what the impact of this detention is going to be!"
It will be important to follow events in the coming weeks and see, for example, whether any more Taliban leaders are captured in order to know for sure whether Pakistan has changed its policy regarding the Afghan Taliban.
Author: Thomas Bärthlein
Editor: Disha Uppal