Anand Gopal, formerly of the Wall Street Journal and now with the Christian Science Monitor, has a scoop.
Pakistan has arrested nearly half of the Afghanistan Taliban’s leadership in recent days, Pakistani officials told the Monitor Wednesday, dealing what could be a crucial blow to the insurgent movement.
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.
“This really hurts the Taliban in the short run,” says Wahid Muzjda, a former Taliban official turned political analyst, based in Kabul. Whether it will have an effect in the long run will depend on what kind of new leaders take the reins, he says.
News of the sweep emerged over the past week, with reports that Pakistani authorities had netted Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the movement’s second in command, as well as Maulavi Abdul Kabir, a prominent commander in charge of insurgent operations in eastern Afghanistan, and Mullah Muhammad Younis.
Pakistan has also captured several other Afghan members of the leadership council, called the Quetta Shura, two officials with the Pakistani Intelligence Bureau, and a United Nations official in Kabul told the Monitor.
These include: Mullah Abdul Qayoum Zakir, who oversees the movement’s military affairs, Mullah Muhammad Hassan, Mullah Ahmed Jan Akhunzada, , and Mullah Abdul Raouf.
At least two Taliban shadow provincial governors, who are part of the movement’s parallel government in Afghanistan, have also been captured.
A Taliban spokesman denied the arrests, saying that they were meant to hide the difficulties that United States and NATO forces were having in Afghanistan.
Why Pakistan’s sudden crackdown?
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. Pakistan is widely suspected of backing the Afghan Taliban in a bid to maintain influence in Afghanistan, a charge Islamabad has long denied. But Pakistan may also be wary of Taliban attempts to initiate talks without its involvement or sanction.