Afghanistan’s No. 2 Taliban Leader Captured in Pakistan

Kabul, Afghanistan – The Taliban’s second in command has been captured in neighboring Pakistan, Taliban, Pakistani and U.S. sources said Tuesday, dealing a serious blow to the insurgency and raising hopes that Taliban chief Mullah Omar could also be apprehended.

The capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, believed to be the key strategist of the Taiban’s military campaign, also is likely to knock the Taliban off balance just as a massive U.S.-led offensive is pressing the insurgents on the battlefield in the southern province of Helmand.

it also may mark a strategic U-turn by Pakistan, which has been accused of secretly supporting the Taliban and hosting its leadership, despite officially breaking ties with the movement after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency helped the Taliban seize power in Afghanistan in the mid 1990s.

Baradar, the most senior Taliban figure arrested in years, was snatched last week in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi by U.S. and Pakistani intelligence forces.

A Pakistani official who asked not to named because he was not authorized to speak to reporters said that Baradar was arrested in the Baldia Town area of Karachi.

“There was not much resistance,” the official added.

A senior U.S. military official confirmed Baradar’s capture. “We got him,” the official said.

The Taliban’s leadership was thought to have been based in the western Pakistani city of Quetta, close to the Afghan border. But with the growing U.S. offensive in Afghanistan, many reportedly relocated to Karachi, a bustling city where they might easily blend in. Baldia Town, in Karachi’s west, has a sizeable population of ethnic Pashtuns, the group that makes up most of the Taliban. Some 3 million Pashtuns live in Karachi, making it easy for Afghan Taliban to mingle with the population.

A former senior Taliban official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that Baradar was captured “some time ago.”

“Pakistan has arrested this man to put pressure on the Taliban, so they have to accept whatever Pakistan says,” the former Taliban said. It was not clear where Baradar was being held.

Baradar is believed to be the key interlocutor in tentative behind-the-scenes peace talks between the Afghan government, the international community and the Taliban. His representatives met with the top United Nations official in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, in Dubai last month. He is said to head the Taliban’s supreme council or shura, and the only figure above him is Mullah Omar, the founder and spiritual leader of the movement, who has not been seen since 2001.

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent. McClatchy Pentagon correspondent Nancy A. Youssef contributed from Amman, Jordan.)