x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The mystery of Baradar and Gadahn: a new 'End Game'?

Baradar has been one of the strongest voices advocating negotiations with the Americans, so what does his arrest mean?

On February 16, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who headed the so-called Balochistan Shura (the council of religious elders), was captured in a joint effort by US and Pakistani intelligence agencies. It appeared to herald a fresh era of enhanced co-operation between the intelligence agencies of the two countries. Within days of this event, three other prominent Taliban leaders were also captured by Pakistani security agencies including Maulvi Abdul Kabir, who headed the North-West Frontier Province Shura.

Since then, there also have been a number of high-profile targeted killings of terror suspects: Maulvi Nazir Mohahammed, Qari Ziaur Rahman and Omer Rahman were all reported to have been killed by an air strike in Bajaur. And finally there is the mystery of Adam Yahiye Gadahn, an American who changed his name from Adam Pearlman and now operates under numerous aliases. One of the FBI's most wanted fugitives with a $1 million bounty on his head, Gadahn was reportedly also apprehended, but the very next day Pakistani officials said that a mistake had been made due to the similarity of names.

The individual they had actually captured was Abu Yahya Majadin Adam. The names don't seem that similar and the media has splattered Gadahn's face across their front pages. Was there a startling resemblance as well? What should be pointed out is that if the captured individual was American and on the FBI's most wanted list, it would be virtually impossible for Pakistan to resist his extradition. Is that the explanation for the mistaken identity?

After Baradar was arrested, the generally accepted view was that he would be debriefed by Pakistani agencies before being handed over to the US. Within a week of his capture, Pakistani security spokesmen clarified that he would be kept in Pakistan. Afghanistan's request for extradition was also turned down. Significantly, the US's protests have been surprisingly mild. On the one hand, it seems that Pakistan can never do enough to satisfy the West. The perpetual litany of "do more" has been plaguing the nation, despite its acknowledged heavy toll of civilian and military casualties. Now that it is succeeding, not only militarily, but also in capturing prominent leaders of the Taliban hidden on its territory, fresh conspiracy theories are being aired from Pakistan succumbing to US pressure to the "End Game" scenario.

One of the most prominent is that Baradar arranged his own capture to negotiate with the Americans, who presumably would arrange for the demise of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar before organising an "escape" for Baradar. Meanwhile, his "confessions" ensure the capture or elimination of hardliners who might pose a challenge to negotiations. While I cannot claim any personal knowledge of Baradar that contradicts this theory, it does seem to run contrary to his history. He is a resident of the same province of Uruzgan in southern Afghanistan as Omar and both of them belong to the same respected Afghan tribe, the Popalzai Durranis - as does Hamid Karzai.

Baradar was also the first to make an oath of allegiance to Omar during their historic campaign to capture Kabul. In 2001, when Omar was virtually surrounded by US forces in Kandahar and looking at imminent death or capture, Baradar ran the gauntlet to rescue his leader. He made Omar wear a burqa and drove him to safety on a motorbike with Omar riding pillion side-saddle, as a woman would. (It is rumoured that Omar married the woman who volunteered her burqa for the escape).

Baradar has been, however, one of the strongest voices advocating negotiations with the Americans. Another rumour is that Omar engineered a reverse sting operation to remove the most pressing thorn in his side, thus eliminating the strongest voice for negotiations. Admittedly, the sudden shift in Pakistan's security policy in successfully capturing and killing high-profile individuals that it had been avoiding deserves some explanation. There is one certain point: Pakistan's political masters have shifted all decisions relating to security to army general headquarters (GHQ).

The Pakistani army chief, Ashfaq Kayani, has correctly stated that Pakistan does not want a "Talibanised Afghanistan" and that a peaceful Afghanistan is a necessity for a peaceful Pakistan. Is it possible that the United States and the Karzai government are coming around to the view that Afghanistan's future is tied primarily to Pakistan. Does Baradar's capture indicate a new era of co-operation?

For those who might not recall, Mr Karzai's father was gunned down in the streets of Quetta in 1999, probably by the Taliban. Karzai believed at the time that he might be killed by Pakistan's Internal Security Services. He has a legitimate complaint against Pakistan, which was very visible during the Musharraf era, but has steadily eroded since. A recognition of Pakistan's importance is also visible in US policy. Statements that "Peace in Afghanistan is essential to ensure peace in Pakistan" - not vice versa - have become more frequent, as have official and "unannounced" visits to GHQ in the last few weeks.

Are we finally, at long last, witnessing an "End Game" that has been agreed upon by these three countries and is being sold to Afghanistan's other neighbours? Time will tell. I can only hope that whatever is in the offing is acceptable to the Afghans collectively, otherwise it will not work. Brig Gen Shaukat Qadir is a former Pakistani infantry officer