March 17, 2010

Taliban Vacationing in Pakistan

Over a month has passed and the full story of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar has yet to be revealed. The arrested Taliban general is the nucleus of his own propaganda universe, the point when US officials went into hyper-drive praising a tipping point in Pakistani relations.

But they were trying to manufacture a tipping point that didn’t exist.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, an AKI operator in Pakistan, has proven accurate more than once and seems to have the connections. He could be wrong, but his reporting sounds more plausible than any we’ve seen so far.

According to Shahzad, “Pakistan changed its strategic position concerning the Taliban after several encounters between US officials and senior Pakistani military officials, held from November 2009 to January 2010.”

In particular Pakistani Army chief general Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, “had a frank discussion with his US counterpart Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, in which Kayani set the rules of the game for Pakistan's cooperation in eliminating Al-Qaeda and setting up a line of communication with top Taliban leaders.”

“At the top of the list was a demand from Pakistan to shut out India from playing any role in Afghanistan. The Americans accepted the demand and India was suddenly removed from any strategic dialogue.”

Shahzad’s findings are a lot to take in at once. First, India appears to have been shut out of Afghanistan before the London conference in January - and thrown under the bus by America. This could play out a number of ways in US-Indian relations, noticeably silence on Kashmir.

But the larger issue is where US-Pakistani relations truly stand. Their level of interaction, while seemingly deeper, doesn’t appear to be a tipping point in any sense. al-Qaeda is a rogue agent to both and Pakistan is using America to get rid of it. In return, at least it appears, Islamabad will get to keep its Afghan Taliban.

So where is supreme Taliban commander Mullah Bradar or Moulvi Abdul Kabeer, a member of the Taliban command council? Is Mullah Abdul Salam, a pioneer member of the Taliban, Mullah Mir Mohammad, or Mullah Mustasim Jan Agha, “one of the most trusted aides of Mullah Omar,” locked up and being interrogated?

Shahzad reports, “These men will be kept as bargaining chips to guarantee Pakistan's strategic interests in Afghanistan now as well as after the US exit.”

"They are treated as VIPs there and are not the subject of any grilling or interrogation," a senior security official told Adnkronos International (AKI) on condition of anonymity. "They are the guests now and they have to play a important role in the next phase of reconciliatory talks with the top Taliban leadership."

Sounds like an old chapter, not a new one. Pakistan is shielding its assets, removing them from the board as protection before a drone kills them or America gets them first, and demanding negotiations with the Taliban and a speedy exit from Afghanistan. Realistically we don't object, but plenty of US elements will.

The real problem of negotiating with the Taliban is that America doesn’t want to negotiate with the Taliban - and that Pakistan is giving it no other choice.

“American leaders are now continuing an exclusive strategic dialogue with Pakistan which will culminate in the upcoming Pak-US Strategic Dialogue scheduled to take place in Washington from 24 to 26 March.”

Doubtful that we’ve reached the bottom of this iceberg, one with omnipotent consequences for the region.


  1. Off the top of my head, is General Kayani not ready to retire? And if so, will he have political aspirations?
    Re: "Silence on Kashmir"? Would this mean that India can keep having its way. Or are they saving that fuse for another day?
    Sooner or later, Kandahar or no Kandahar. U.S.A. will have to negotiate with the Taliban. Pakistan is stacking the deck for when that day comes.

  2. For sure. I'm under the impression that Kayani is propping up Pakistan's unpopular civilian government so that he can stay in power. They say he has no political ambitions, and he might not seek any office, but he doesn't really need to unless Pakistan's government implodes on some domestic crisis. Most Pakistani analysts agree that Kayani is already the most powerful man in the state, and he's come down on the side of Taliban reconciliation.