Feb 16, 2010
The New York Times reveals this evening that the Afghan Taliban’s second-in-command, Mullah Baradar, was arrested in Karachi on Thursday in a joint raid by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The move is clear demonstration that the Pakistan Army, under the command of Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, has a more flexible approach toward Afghanistan, guided by the realization that it has permanent interests, not permanent allies in its neighbor to the northwest.
In a recent briefing to foreign correspondents, Kayani said that Pakistan seeks a friendly government, stability, and ”strategic depth” (meaning, at the very least, that Kabul is not allied with New Delhi) in Afghanistan. The Pakistan Army is willing to play by more conventional rules and begin to engage so-called good actors to secure these goals in Afghanistan. Toward this, Kayani offered to train the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. Having denied India a strategic pivot into Central Asia and northwestern/western Pakistan via Afghanistan (note India’s minimal role in the London talks and absence from the Istanbul talks), the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment feels more secure to broaden its ties in Afghanistan and engage the current Afghan leadership.
In addition to having been provided an opportunity to diversify its contacts in Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army likely also feels a need to do so. In my previous post, I speculated that Kayani’s overtures to the Karzai government possibly contained the following “implicit message” to the Afghan Taliban: “you are not our only option, so don’t take us for granted.” And so the arrest of Baradar is perhaps part of an attempt by the Pakistan Army to induce behavioral change on the part of the Afghan Taliban, and particularly its obstinate leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar. These desired changes likely include: giving up maximalist goals, such as the re-establishment of an emirate; and clear movement toward the bargaining table with Karzai and away from al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. 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?
The arrest of Baradar helps bring U.S. and Pakistan policy toward Afghanistan in closer alignment. The Pakistan Army is willing to work with Afghan moderates and, at the same time, retains significant leverage over the country’s insurgents. It has the capacity and willingness to engage, if not manage, a broad spectrum of Afghanistan’s major Pashtun actors — both “good” and “bad.” One would imagine that Pakistani diplomatic, military, and political officials are also engaging Afghan Tajiks and Uzbeks, particularly ex-mujahideen.
With its contacts, geographic location, and new-found “responsible” approach, it’s Pakistan — not Iran, India, or Russia — that is positioned to play the role of stability guarantor in a post-American Afghanistan, especially as it pertains to U.S. interests. Pakistan has an opportunity to come in from the cold and project its regional influence through more conventional and “legitimate” means. In doing so, it can secure its interests and the respect and trust of others, while also containing the Taliban contagion infesting its border areas with Afghanistan.