Taliban military commander arrested: officials
The Taliban's top military commander has been arrested in a joint Pakistan-U.S. operation in the port city of Karachi, officials told Western news agencies on Tuesday.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was arrested in an operation over a week ago, Pakistani military and intelligence officials and U.S. intelligence officials told reporters on condition of anonymity.
The arrest in Karachi was part of a joint CIA-Pakistani operation and based on shared intelligence, a Pakistani intelligence official said.
The news, first reported Monday in the New York Times, has been hailed as a major victory for the United States and its allies in its fight with the Taliban in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan, where a major offensive involving Canada and other NATO allies is underway.
Baradar ranks second in influence with the Taliban only to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban's founder and a close associate of Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Pakistan's involvement is also sure to encourage the United States, which has been pressing for the Pakistani government to crack down on the Taliban within its borders.
U.S. Senator John Kerry said Tuesday the news is proof of a "stronger co-operative effort" between the United States and Pakistan in rooting out the Taliban.
Taliban deny arrest
Kerry, in Islamabad for a meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, told CBS's The Early Show that Pakistan's government now knows that "this fight is their fight."
A Taliban spokesman in Afghanistan denied that Baradar had been captured, telling The Associated Press the report was propaganda aimed at undermining the Taliban fighting Afghan and NATO forces in the southern Afghan town of Marjah.
Mualvi Noor Muhammad, the leader of the Tehreeq Nifaz Shariat, a movement that supports the Taliban, downplayed the reported arrest, saying any Taliban commander could be replaced quickly.
There has been speculation the arrest could be linked to the new push to negotiate with moderate Afghan Taliban leaders as a way to end the conflict in Afghanistan, which began when the Taliban were ousted in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
Baradar said in an interview with Newsweek last year that he saw "no benefit" to reconciling with the government of Afghanistan and the United States, but Taliban expert Michael Semple described Baradar as a pragmatist.
"If he could get guarantees, he would be willing to negotiate," said Semple, who was expelled from Afghanistan in 2007 by President Hamid Karzai for negotiating with mid-level Taliban commanders when he worked for the European Union.
With files from The Associated Press