All the king’s horses and all the king’s men have bamboozled the public again. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, the CIA, the Pentagon, and the Pakistanis told you Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was captured, or seized, or arrested. Not a shot fired.
Reports in the New York Times, The Washington Times, The London Times, Reuters and other wire services conflict on the exact date that hands were laid on Baradar. A breathless headline in the New York Times proclaims a “secret joint raid” by Pakistani and American intelligence. At the same time Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, says reports of secret joint operations are simply propaganda. All this confusion confirms just one thing: the White House and agencies supposedly involved in the affair know nothing about it except what Pakistanis tell them.
With regard to this murky event I prefer the word detained, since Baradar and other senior Taliban leaders were captured once before—and released. In 2001, Baradar and several colleagues were taken by Afghan militiamen. Pakistan intervened and the Taliban bosses were sent on their way. Baradar will probably have the same good fortune again, after a decent interval.
That news media parrot disinformation is not surprising. After all, with rare exception they know as much about complex Afghan tribal issues as does the White House. That is to say, nothing. But what are the administration’s motives in promoting this sham detention? What about the Pakistanis?
President Obama has the simplest motive of all. With his approval ratings at historic lows, he is desperate to show the electorate that his endless and abortive war in Afghanistan is turning the tide at last. The CIA joins the disinformation and claims a role in detaining Baradar because of its pain and embarrassment after a Taliban double agent killed seven field officers at an outpost near Khost.
Pakistan’s actions however, are driven by vastly more complex motives. Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and expert in Taliban matters said about Baradar, “His whereabouts, I think, were extremely well-known to the Pakistanis for a long time.” His opinion is supported by many others like Abdullah Abdullah, former Afghan presidential candidate, who said, “When I was foreign minister (2002-2006) we would provide our Pakistani counterparts with the names of Taliban leadership and details of their activities. But the Pakistanis would joke that these were common names, and they needed even more specifics from us. Of course it was a deception.”
The White House and CIA know the powerful Pakistani army intelligence service, the ISI (InterServices Intelligence) supports Afghan militant groups operating from Pakistan, including Baradar and his boss, the one-eyed “blind Mullah” Mohammad Omar. Another ISI client is Gulbuddin Hekatyar, who uses an ISI safehouse when he visits Rawalpindi. His Peshawar camp looks like a regular army base, complete with barracks and secure perimeters. Yet another example is Jalaluddin Haqqani, leader of a guerrilla group that has produced the greatest number of Afghan suicide bombers and fighters. He is regularly treated for chronic illness by ISI doctors. Finally, there is Baradar, Mullah Omar, and their Taliban council (shura) based in Quetta, capital of Pakistan’s province of Baluchistan. They have never suffered political pressure or military strikes and, as long as they stayed in Quetta and concentrated on activities in Afghanistan, the ISI even provided arms, money, training, and protection. Suddenly, out of their cohort of Taliban leaders, the ISI detains Baradar. The Pakistani government trumpets the action as proof of its firm desire to help the United States crush the Taliban. Only this administration could believe that.
What really happened is that Baradar and several of his shura henchmen departed Quetta and set up shop in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and an important center of industry and maritime trade. Karachi is inured to a certain level of Muslim-Christian violence, but the last decade has seen a dramatic influx of Pashtuns, who brought along their criminal activities and insurgent connections. The city has suffered a corresponding increase in Muslim-Muslim violence, especially Pashtuns versus Mohajirs, the ethnic Indian Muslims who moved north after the partition from British India in 1947. Any increase in violence and crime adds to political problems for the fragile Pakistani government, so the ISI acted in its own interest when the Quetta gang arrived.
I can imagine an ISI colonel, even a general, using his best ghetto-walk as he rolls into Baradar’s Karachi digs and says, “Yo, dude. Whassup with dis? You outta yo territory. You don’t go home, I don’t guarantee what happens.” Baradar says something to the effect of ‘bring it on.’ So they did. In a single low key action (no pictures, please) the ISI decreases Pashtun presence in Karachi by detaining Baradar’s crew and gives Washington and Islamabad some useful propaganda about cooperation. The ISI bonus is that they still retain a useful Taliban proxy who will gratefully influence the political settlement that comes when the Americans inevitably leave Afghanistan.
Finally, there is always the matter of money. Besides offers to bribe Taliban fighters to bury AK-47s and go back to poppy farming, Obama proposes to give $7.3 billion stimulus dollars to Pakistan. That is in addition to $12.3 billion poured into Pakistan’s coffers since 2002.
I am sure the White House tracks every stimulus dollar to be sure it is not spent on the wrong projects. Like the astounding modernization and expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons factories.
Chet Nagle is the author of IRAN COVENANT.