Rahimullah Yusufzai, a leading authority on the politics of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s north-west frontier, provides an exceptionally well-informed perspective on the recent capture of the Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Yusufzai, senior editor of the News International newspaper of Pakistan, was talking to the Real News host, Paul Jay. Yusufzai has worked for many international news organizations in his long career as a Peshwar-based journalist and was on PULSEMEDIA’s List of Top 20 Global Media Figures in 2009.
Baradar was one of the field commanders of the Taliban when they were in power in Afghanistan. But his significance in the movement grew after the Taliban regime was ousted in late 2001. According to Yusufzai, the Taliban leader Mullah Omar had two deputies after their overthrow: Mullah Baradar and Mullah Obaidullah. Baradar was a link between Mullah Omar and the Leadership Council (Shura) on the one hand and the Council and the field commanders inside Afghanistan on the other. As such, Yusufzai says, Baradar’s capture will have an immediate impact on the Afghan Taliban; it will demoralize Taliban fighters and disrupt their operations. But he does not think “it will have an impact on the Taliban’s ability to fight the US forces in the long run.” In Yusufzai’s view, the Afghan Taliban are so powerful that they probably have replaced Mullah Baradar.
Yusufzai suggests two possible reasons for Baradar’s capture in a joint Pakistani-US intelligence operation in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi: first, the Americans had ‘obliged’ the Pakistanis by assassinating two very important leaders of the Pakistani Taliban (Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud), who were Pakistan’s enemies and were attacking targets in Pakistan, including security forces; the second possible reason, US intelligence found out about Baradar and confronted the Pakistanis with the information of his whereabouts, after which the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI, had no choice.
Yusufzai says the capture of Baradar indicates a slight shift in Pakistan’s Afghan policy, but not a real change. He points out that Pakistan still has links with the Afghan Taliban movement and a number of them are still hiding inside Pakistan.