February 24, 2010

... Um.. oh yes they did

A just-published news report has prodded Londonstani out of a work-enduced coma:

The Christian Science Monitor reports today (24th) that the Pakistani authorities have moved against the Afghan Taliban leadership based in Pakistan (dubbed the Quetta Shura)

"In total, seven of the insurgent group’s 15-member leadership council, thought to be based in Quetta, Pakistan, including the head of military operations, have been apprehended in the past week, according to Pakistani intelligence officials.

Western and Pakistani media had previously reported the arrest of three of the 15, but this is the first confirmation of the wider scale of the Pakistan crackdown on the Taliban leadership, something the US has sought."

As the CSM rightly asks; 1 Why is Pakistan doing this now, and 2 Does it significantly damage the Afghan Taliban?

"The crackdown may to be related to efforts by some Taliban leaders to explore talks with Western and Afghan authorities independently of Pakistan, the UN official said"

There has already been much reporting of the politic-ing behind efforts to talk to the Taliban - including the use of the good offices of former Afghan Jihadis who have long since hung up their AKs (like Abdullah Anas). But this changes the game. The Pakistani on-going operation in Waziristan was delayed as the Pakistani army cut deals with Afghan Taliban leaders (among others) so as to limit the fronts it would have to fight on. Might these arrests, which look to be more than a cosmetic exercise, basically equal a declaration of war against the people it built up and then protected for so long. That is a pretty serious shift in policy.

A recent article in The New Republic about General Keyani, the Pakistani army's chief of staff, comes to mind. Michael Crowley thinks Keyani sees that American and Pakistani interests (as viewed by Keyani) are aligned and suggests that Keyani was just getting round to this move all along. But Pakistan's key interest in Afghanistan centres on making sure the people who run the place like Islamabad more than New Dehli. The only Afghanis likely to feel that way are the Taliban. How does arresting their leadership sheltering in Pakistan make them feel warm and fuzzy about Keyani's men? And how does it make them want to conduct any future potential talks with the allies through Pakistan?

As for damaging the Taliban:

“This really hurts the Taliban in the short run,” says Wahid Muzjda, a former Taliban official turned political analyst, based in Kabul.

"You can arrest Mullah Baradar, but there are many Mullah Baradars out there,” says Mr. Zaif. “The commanders are replaceable. The fighters on the ground will keep fighting.”

Seems the jury is out on that one.

UPDATE: Fixing The New Republic writer's name first name and updating headline