x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Does capture in Pakistan reveal a change in rules?

If true, the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is highly significant. Not only would he be the highest ranking Taliban official to be captured, but the fact that he was apprehended in Karachi, by Pakistani security services, marks an apparent departure in that country's national security policy.

If true, the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is highly significant. Not only would he be the highest ranking Taliban official to be captured, but the fact that he was apprehended in Karachi, by Pakistani security services, marks an apparent departure in that country's national security policy. The US has long pressed Pakistan to help capture members of the so-called Afghan Taliban leadership hiding in the country. Until now, they have demurred.

It is hard not to sympathise with their reticence; Pakistan is a country in the midst of crisis. Why, so their reasoning goes, should it add to its problems by alienating yet another group of militants, who, thus far, have not shown themselves as hostile to Pakistan? The answer, of course, is that no country can allow such groups to operate within its borders. The branch of the Taliban that Mullah Baradar represents may indeed have its attention focused on the Afghan side of the Durand line, but that could change.

Pakistan has learnt from the Tehrik-i-Taliban and its ally in Swat, the Movement for the Enforcement of Sharia, which have waged war against Islamabad. It is not a question of Pakistan pre-emptively assaulting the Taliban before it becomes hostile to the state. These groups represent an unacceptable affront to the authority of the state and, with the arrest of Mullah Baradar, Pakistan apparently has come to this conclusion. For example, attacks by Lashkar-i-Taiba on India have continually threatened peace talks favoured by the governments of both Pakistan and India. Islamabad cannot allow the actions of these groups to affect its policies.

Of course, much of this is speculation. The Pakistani government has remained largely silent on this issue. Perhaps this is because it still fears angering Mullah Baradar's allies. It is also possible that the country's long-held policy of tolerating militant organisations in Pakistan, so long as they do not attack, Pakistanis still stands. Or, the government and security services could simply be conflicted. Whatever the case, the capture of Mullah Baradar has ramifications for Pakistan's future relations with the myriad militant outfits residing on its soil. The rules have changed, and not just for Pakistan.

How can militant organisations, even those ostensibly aligned with government policy, such as the liberation of Kashmir, be sure that Pakistan will not attack or arrest its leadership should the country's policy change? This will make Pakistan's control over these groups only more tenuous. But it is past time that Pakistan gave up its fascination with such organisations. The transition will no doubt be painful, and the US should be careful not to push too hard for change. Yet, the end result is welcome: a Pakistan where the government's writ is king.