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Taking a stand – Finally

March 2, 2010

By Gareth Porter

WASHINGTON – The refusal of Pakistani intelligence to turn over Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and as many as six other top Taliban figures to the United States or the Afghan government has dealt a serious blow to the Barack Obama administration’s hopes for Pakistani cooperation in weakening the Taliban. 

It has left little doubt in the minds of US officials that the Pakistani military intends to keep physical custody of the Taliban detainees in order to exert influence on both the pace of peace negotiations in Afghanistan and the ultimate terms of a settlement. 

The Pakistani custody of Baradar and other Taliban leaders now appears to be more of a safe haven for the Afghan insurgents than a normal detention. At least some US officials already accept the likelihood that the Pakistanis will allow the Taliban leaders to continue to maintain contact with other Taliban officials while in custody. 

The primary evidence of the Pakistani military leadership’s intentions is the Pakistani refusal to allow the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to question Baradar in the days following his initial detention. The CIA was denied direct access toBaradar for “about two weeks”, according to US media reports. 

That Pakistani refusal of access frustrated the CIA, which was eager to interrogate Baradar about details of the Taliban’s operations and finance. During those crucial two weeks, US intelligence officials got no information that would lead them to the rest of the Taliban leadership. 

US intelligence officials doubt that they can get the truth fromBaradar as long he is in Pakistani military custody, according to Miller’s report. 

During that two-week period, CIA director Leon Panetta and other US officials asked the Pakistani government and military leaders to transfer Baradar and other Taliban leaders to the US detention center at Bagram air base in Afghanistan to allow the US militaryto interrogate him, according to one report. 

But Pakistani Interior Minister Rahman Malik flatly rejected that proposal on February 19. He announced that Baradar and two other high-ranking Taliban leaders arrested in February would not be handed over to the US, and that Pakistani questioning ofBaradar would continue to determine whether he had violated Pakistani law. 

Even if Baradar was found not to have broken the law, Malik said he would be returned to “the country of origin, not to the USA”. 

The Obama administration then tried to pressure Pakistan to extradite the Taliban leaders to Afghanistan. Federal Bureau of Investigation director Robert Mueller, accompanied by Afghan Interior Minister Hanif Atmar, met secretly with Interior Minister Malik last Wednesday and sought to get him to agree to extradition to Afghanistan, as Anand Gopal reported in theChristian Science Monitor. 

Despite Afghan government statements that he had agreed to extradition to Afghanistan, Malik was non-committal about extradition on Thursday. He promised only that his government “will definitely look at” a formal request from the Afghangovernment. 

Pakistan and Afghanistan were reported to be negotiating an agreement on the return of prisoners, with the “mechanisms” for such a return still to be worked out. 

Then on Friday, a provincial high court in Pakistan’s Punjab province delivered what appeared to be the final blow to the prospects for extradition of Baradar and four other Taliban leaders to Afghanistan. The court blocked any extradition by Pakistan of the Taliban leaders to any country until the court could hear the issue of the detainees’ rights. 

The Pakistani government could appeal the decision, but officialsin Islamabad told CBS News there were no plans for such an appeal at present. 

Even before the court intervened in the issue, any hopes the Obama administration and the US military might have had that Pakistan was prepared to sell out its former Taliban allies had already waned. 

The newspaper report in the US on Wednesday quoted a “top American official” who had met with Pakistani army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kiani “recently” – presumably Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who had met with Kiani on January 21 – who did not seem confident about the prospects of getting control of the Taliban leaders. The official said, “We’ll know soon whether this is cooperation, or a stonewall and kind of rope-a-dope.” 

The official was referring to a number of past episodes in which the Pakistani military was ostensibly supporting US policy inAfghanistan while it continued to support the Taliban. 

The same story last Wednesday quoted a “top American militaryofficer in Afghanistan” as speculating that the Pakistanis were intending to use Baradar and their other Taliban prisoners to accelerate the timetable for a negotiated settlement inAfghanistan. “I don’t know if they’re pushing anyone to the table,” said the unnamed general, “but they are certainly preparing the meal.” 

By suggesting that the Pakistanis were preparing for a negotiating process involving Baradar, the “top military officer” was acknowledging that he and other US officials expect Pakistan to allow Baradar to negotiate with the Hamid Karzai government in Kabul while he is in custody. 

That role would also require that Baradar be allowed to communicate with other members of the Taliban leadership – both those in custody and those still operating freely, including Taliban leader Mullah Omar. 

Multiple reports from US sources have indicated that the original arrest of Baradar was not the result of a raid specifically targeting the Taliban’s second-ranking leader but an “accident”. Baradar’s identity was discovered only after the raid took place, the USofficials said. 

It now appears that Pakistan’s military leadership quickly adopted a new strategy for stepping up the timetable for Afghan peace negotiations and ensuring that its interests were protected in those negotiations after it realized that it had Baradar in custody. 

That decision would account for the rapid detention of as many as six other members of the Taliban leadership council that followed the apprehension of Baradar, as Gopal reported in the Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday. 

The plan evidently assumes that the Taliban leaders will have to consult Pakistani intelligence officials while they negotiate withthe Afghan government and the United States. 

The Obama administration had been counting on Pakistan to end its policy of providing safe haven for Afghan Taliban leaders and fighters because, without such a decision, US officials admit there is little or no possibility of seriously weakening the Taliban. 

That assumption impelled Obama to write a letter to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari last November, warning bluntly that Pakistan’s support for the Taliban would no longer be tolerated, the Washington Post reported on February 19. 

The Pakistani government adjusted to the latest US pressure on its Taliban policy by allowing the Central Intelligence Agency to expand its intelligence operations in Pakistan aimed at intercepting Taliban and al-Qaeda messages to Karachi. It also agreed to joint operations with the CIA to find high-level Taliban operatives. 

But it is now clear that the increased intelligence cooperation withthe CIA did not mean Pakistan had abandoned its broader strategy of relying on the Taliban as the best guarantee of Pakistani influence in Afghanistan. 

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.

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9 comments

  1. Maybe there is more to Rehman Malik then meets the eyes:

    “But Pakistani Interior Minister Rahman Malik flatly rejected that proposal on February 19. He announced that Baradar and two other high-ranking Taliban leaders arrested in February would not be handed over to the US, and that Pakistani questioning ofBaradar would continue to determine whether he had violated Pakistani law.”

    But I was very mistaken. Once again this NRO guy had me fooled for a couple of seconds:
     
    “Even if Baradar was found not to have broken the law, Malik said he would be returned to “the country of origin, not to the USA”. 


  2. Time is right for the Americans to bomb Pakistan back to the stone age.


    • *wishfull thinking* 😀

      keep dreaming india. Pakistan is Not iraq or afghanistan. any doubts ? u can try 🙂 i forgot, u did tried after the mumbai drama. and what was the result ? do i need to mention ?

      unless such hate is eliminated from indian mindset, Pakistan should Not consider india as a friendly nation. and whenever such comments are made, these force Pakistani’s to support Lashkar and people like hafiz saeed 😀

      cheers


    • @ Neel123

      You are speaking like a “terrorist”….


      • Bhindians are incredibly afraid of Pakistani tribal culture and those living in the NWFP area!.They’d be enough to kick the living daylights out of the slumdog army!!


  3. If Baradar was not to be handed over – then why was he arrested in the first place??? Negotiations could have still taken place with the taliban.
    It seems the ISI was just sending a message to the so called afghan taliban who is the boss!!
    The reality is that the US really does not need Baradar or already has access to Baradar- otherwise he would have been handed over long ago by the US proxies in the mercenary Pakistan Army


    • i smell indian …. anyone else ?

      would US ever hand over indian trained terrorists like Brahamdagh bugti and co to Pakistan ?
      No they wont as they are serving the purpose for which they were created. so same goes for Pakistan!


  4. Baradar was not arrested. He is now officially in a safe place where he can carry out his terrorist activities from. He’s in the ISI headquarters. How convinient.


  5. The reality is that the US really does not need Baradar or already has access to Baradar- otherwise he would have been handed over long ago by the US proxies in the mercenary Pakistan Army

    @ Jane: If Clinton was not to be charged, why was he summoned in in front of a jury?? Why does USA violate the Ganeva Convention all the time?? Why is the Camp X-Ray and all in “Guantanamo Bay” located in Cube ?? So that it does not fall under the US Jurisdiction and hence the US Law ?? very funny Jane.

    @ “Mercenary Pakistan Army” … HAHAHA and what is alll that Blackwater and Xe talk in the town about?

    @ Amused: I honestly am pretty amused to know that you conveniently say with certainty that Baradar is in the ISI HQs… do you even know where its located??? Lols



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