INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR---PAPER NO.619
US intelligence agencies have widened their hunt for the leaders of the Afghan Taliban in the non-tribal areas of Pakistan, particularly in Karachi.
2. This is reminiscent of the widening of the hunt for the leaders and senior operatives of Al Qaeda in the non-tribal areas in 2002-03 after they fled into Pakistan from Tora Bora in Afghanistan. This, inter alia, led to the capture of Abu Zubaidah in Faislabad in Pakistani Punjab in March,2002, Ramzi Binalshib in Karachi in September 2002 and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad in Rawalpindi in March,2003.The success of the US agencies in tracing them in the non-tribal areas and pressuring the Pakistani agencies to arrest them and hand them over to the US forced the other leaders, who had evaded capture, to flee to North Waziristan and take shelter there. They are now being hunted there by the Drones (unmanned planes) of the CIA.
3.Originally, the US agencies believed that the surviving leaders of the Afghan Taliban, including Mulla Mohammad Omar, were operating from the Pashtun majority areas of Balochistan, particularly from the refugee camps in the Quetta area. The collusion of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) with the Quetta-based leaders led to suggestions from the US field commanders in Afghanistan for extending the Drone strikes to the Quetta area to hit at the hide-outs of the Afghan leaders there.
4. In the wake of these suggestions, there were reports that the ISI has shifted the Afghan Taliban leaders to Karachi and helped them to get sanctuaries among the pro-Taliban elements in the local Pashtun community. Karachi is estimated to have more Pashtuns than Peshawar, the capital of the Pashtun-majority North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the party of Mohajirs headed by Altaf Hussain, who lives in exile in the UK, has been alleging for some months now that not only Afghan Taliban, but even some Pakistani Taliban leaders have taken shelter in the Pashtun community in Karachi and have been operating from there.
5.Till recently, the US was not taking these allegations seriously. It is now paying more attention to these allegations and US agencies have stepped up their intelligence collection efforts in Karachi-----particularly after attacks on NATO logistics convoys in the Karachi area.
6. The reported capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Taliban's operational commander and the deputy to Mullah Omar, in Karachi some days ago by the ISI at the instance of the US agencies has to be viewed in this context. The reports of his arrest have been denied by Mr.Rehman Mallik, the Pakistani Interior Minister,and Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
7.Other reports purported to be emanating from Taliban commanders have been quoted as claiming that Baradar has in fact been captured by the Americans, but in the Helmand province of Afghanistan where the US has launched an offensive against the Afghan Taliban and not in Karachi.
8. The report of his arrest in Karachi, if confirmed, would embarrass both the Pakistani authorities and the Afghan Taliban as this would lend some substance to the allegations of the MQM that the Taliban leadership is now operating from Karachi.
9. The speculation that the reported arrest of Baradar is a US-engineered charade and is part of its exercise to create a split in the Afghan Taliban by winning over associates of Mulla Omar does not carry conviction at present. ( 17-2-10)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )