February 19, 2010

The Secret Is Out

Congratulations are in order. For almost a week America rode a wave of opinion that it has turned the corner with Pakistan.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry just happened to be in Islamabad, one of many US officials who flew in after the capture Taliban general Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. He told CBS that Baradar’s arrest, "demonstrates heightened cooperation between the Pakistanis and the United States. The capture demonstrates their [the Pakistanis'] commitment to the fight."

This notion was reinforced by the capture of a cluster of al-Qaeda operatives and two Taliban shadow governors. US officials plentifully leaked that Baradar is “talking” to create the appearance of a connection that may or may not exist. All of this has been first rate propaganda.

But now the secret's out, and raised expectations can start falling back to Earth. Apparently Pakistan didn’t mean to arrest Baradar, which, if true, distorts everything we’ve heard up to this point.

The New York Times reports, “American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications saying militants with a possible link to the Afghan Taliban’s top military commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, were meeting. Tipped off by the Americans, Pakistani counterterrorist officers took several men into custody, meeting no resistance.

Only after a careful process of identification did Pakistani and American officials realize they had captured Mullah Baradar himself, the man who had long overseen the Taliban insurgency against American, NATO and Afghan troops in Afghanistan.”

A flood of doubts have come rushing back in like a pent-up high tide. Did America know Baradar was at the meeting and set up the ISI to raid who it otherwise wouldn't? Is the rumor of bringing Baradar in to negotiate still alive? Or does “getting lucky,” as one US official called it, not change the fact that Pakistan acted on the US tips regardless?

This wording, combined with recent revelations, revives the critical question: did Pakistan act on CIA information under its own volition or under pressure from Washington? Both American and Pakistan officials deny the Taliban raids came under stress. No, Washington and Islamabad’s relation has flourished since Pakistan realized the true threat of the Afghan Taliban.

“Through engagement... we've seen an increased amount of cooperation with them,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters. “I think we're working constructively with them, meeting with them regularly. We have a better intelligence-sharing capability.”

He says these things with full knowledge that Pakistan didn’t actually intend to arrest Baradar. There is no way of knowing whether the ISI would have acted the same had it known beforehand, but the odds are unlikely.

The Politico article might hold the real answer to Pakistan’s actions, at the very bottom as typically found.

It reports, “The former government South Asia hand said veteran CIA and NSC official Bruce Riedel, who served as an Afpak advisor to the Obama White House for the first two months of his term, had argued for this approach.

“I gather this is the first time the [Pakistanis] have actually done what Riedel pressed on the Administration as a high priority during his 60 days in the White House — push the Pakistani military to go into the Quetta Shura,” the former official said. “’We know that they know where the Taliban leadership is — so do something about it!’ was [Riedel’s] line.”

“I believe the Pakistanis have finally concluded that the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan Taliban were cooperating against them in Waziristan and elsewhere,” Riedel just told the NYT for their report.

We have loads of information to analyze on this topic in the future. While Pakistan could have reached a point where it won’t be used and abused by the Taliban any longer, it could also be playing the same games as before. A part of the set has fallen down.

Pakistan was presented with information on Baradar and it had to act to maintain face with America. Or it could have also walked into a US trap. Regardless of the reality, America has officially lost control of the perception.

It's anyone's guess again.


  1. This one you can absolutely rule out.


  2. Yes, no matter what happened ISI and CIA forces didn't "stumble upon Baradar." Someone knew he was going to be there.