Exclusive Analysis

Pakistan Assessment

Terrorism: The arrest of senior Taliban leaders in Pakistan is unlikely to disrupt or weaken the movement significantly in the one-year outlook.

In February 2010, Pakistani authorities rendered what appeared to be a serious blow to the Afghan Taliban insurgency by arresting half of the Quetta shura in Karachi and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Although the Taliban have publicly denied the arrests, those under detention include Mullah Abullah Ghani Baradar (the Afghan Taliban's second-in-command behind Mullah Omar); Mullah Abdul Salam and Mullah Mir Muhammad (the Taliban's shadow governors for Afghanistan's Kunduz and Baghlan provinces); Maulawi Kabir (former Taliban acting prime minister) and Maulvi Mohammad Yunos (former Zabul province shadow governor), among others.

We assess that the elimination of the veteran leadership, at a time when they are under pressure in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, will only hamper more immediate Taliban operations. The Taliban have in the past proved adept at substituting even high-ranking leaders quickly without losing much operational effectiveness. For instance, the killings in 2006 and 2007 of insurgent leaders Akhtar Muhammad Usmani and Mullah Dadullah resulted in no noticeable slowing of operation tempo. The swift appointment of Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir and Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, as successors to Mullah Baradar, will also go some way towards preventing violent infighting within the insurgent movement. The succession process is assisted by the hierarchical structure of the Taliban, which has generally prevented any single commander from gaining disproportionate power.

Pakistan's motivation for these arrests after years of apparent tacit tolerance for Taliban networks on its soil is highly contested. Pakistan's unwillingness to hand Baradar over to the US or allow his interrogation by US officials means that the arrests were probably a result of tactical level cooperation rather than a strategic shift in policy. It also appears moderately likely that Pakistan planned the arrests in order to derail reported preliminary negotiations between the UN and the Karzai government with the Taliban senior leadership. Pakistan is likely to wish to prevent any political deal to incorporate the Taliban into the Afghan government, since to disarm the Taliban would remove an important bargaining chip that Pakistan currently holds over its Afghan neighbour. Pakistan is fearful of a strong Afghanistan that could ally itself with India, and as such has traditionally tolerated the Afghan Taliban as an insurance policy against this eventuality. Hence, we do not see the arrests as indicative of any serious Pakistani intent to pursue the senior Taliban leadership, and will probably have little impact on the insurgency in Afghanistan in the one-year outlook.




©Jules Stewart 2008