Just over a month ago, on February 8, 2010 to be precise, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, described as the top Afghan Taliban military commander was arrested in Karachi. The arrest was the result of a joint operation by the CIA and Pakistan’s intelligence services and was touted as a turning point in the fight against the Taliban, something whose “capture could cripple the Taliban’s military operations”.
Now after a month, one hears different versions of this arrest. Apparently, Mullah Baradar was arrested after he was effectively expelled from the Taliban’s top leadership, which has now been taken over by even more radical individuals. This reuters report quotes U.S. and NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal to say that rather than a sign of the ISI’s increased willingness to help the CIA fight the Taliban, Baradar’s arrest may have been the result of an internal feud and purge among Taliban leaders.
On a different note, Kai Eide, the outgoing United Nations Special Representative to Afghanistan and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has said that he was engaged in peace talks with Mullah Baradar and other Taliban leaders. Baradar was a member of President Hamid Karzai's Popalzai tribe, one of the numerous Pashtun tribes, a man who could have been co-opted into Karzai’s government and the Afghan political process. According to Eide, Baradar’s arrest has sabotaged the ongoing talks.
Kai Aage Eide has been a member of the Norwegian Foreign Service since 1975. In March 2008, he was appointed the United Nations Special Representative to Afghanistan and Head of the UNAMA. One of the chief roles played by Eide in Afghanistan was to oversee the 2009 Afghan elections which was won by Hamid Karzai despite allegations of massive fraud. Eide’s subordinate, U.N. deputy special representative in Afghanistan Peter Galbraith openly accused Eide of helping cover up electoral fraud and being biased in favour of Hamid Karzai. Shortly after making such accusations, Galbraith was fired by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Eide has now stepped down from his role as Head of UNAMA.
It cannot be denied that Hamid Karzai was re-elected to Afghan Presidency as a result of massive fraud to which the UN turned a blind eye. Why did Eide and the UN do that? Because Karzai, though corrupt and ineffective, is a ‘devil’ they know and understand. Because they do not have the guts to replace him with an unknown devil. It is not the first time the UN or the US have turned a blind eye to the activities of the Taliban or the ISI. The US has historically turned a blind eye to the arming of Kashmiri militants by the ISI. It was only after the militants fighting in Kashmir like the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and the Jaish e Mohammed started fighting the US army in Afghanistan and the Pak army in Pakistan’s North West that the US found it fit to cry halt. Currently US troops in the restive province of Marjah which recently saw some fierce fighting are ignoring the opium harvest being brought in by farmers, even though some of the proceeds of the harvest may go to fund the Taliban.
How serious were the talks which Eide had with the Taliban? According to Eide, Baradar had Mullah Omar’s blessings. However, Eide’s former subordinate Peter Galbraith says that it is an exaggeration to say that such talks were extensive.
Of late, the war against the Pakistani Taliban has been progressing rather well. However, the war in Afghanistan is not going anywhere. The Afghan National Army is unable to even shoot straight, let alone relieve the coalition forces. It has always been known that the ISI wanted to rid Pakistan of the Taliban while keep them alive in Afghanistan. It is very much possible that the ISI helped the CIA arrest Mullah Baradar because he had fallen afoul of the Taliban leadership or because he was leading peace talks which the ISI did not like.