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Pakistan confirms arrest of Taliban leader

Baradar said to be Taliban second-in-command

Published:

Pakistan on Wednesday confirmed the arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, said to be the Taliban second-in-command, whose removal could deal a heavy blow to the militia's eight-year war in Afghanistan.

The military released a short statement confirming Baradar had been arrested, but made no mention of U.S. reports that he was captured several days ago in Pakistan's financial capital Karachi in a joint operation with U.S. spies.

"At the conclusion of detailed identification procedure, it has been confirmed that one of the persons arrested happens to be Mullah Baradar," said military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas.

"Place of arrest and operational details cannot be released due to security reasons," he added. Speaking to AFP, Abbas declined to say more.

Analysts have said his arrest could signal a watershed in Washington's bid to persuade Pakistan to move aggressively against Islamist militants operating on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border.

Confirmation of Baradar's detention came just hours before U.S. President Barack Obama was to meet his war cabinet to discuss Afghanistan and a major offensive on a key Taliban bastion that has run into stiff resistance.

Obama was to meet in the White House's Situation Room with Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, General David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, and top officials.

General Stanley McChrystal, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, were to join the meeting via video conference, the White House said.

At the conclusion of detailed identification procedure, it has been confirmed that one of the persons arrested happens to be Mullah Baradar

Military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas

Detained

The New York Times and other media, citing unnamed officials in the United States and Pakistan, said Baradar had been detained in Pakistan's sprawling port city of Karachi "several days ago" and was being interrogated.

The White House Tuesday refused to confirm the reports, but said it welcomed better cooperation between the United States and Pakistan.

"We've seen an increase in Pakistani pushback on extremists in their own country, which I think is beneficial not simply for us," Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.

U.S. officials had long complained that Islamabad's spy service was failing to crack down on Afghan Taliban but had recently refrained from public criticism while Washington doled out billions in military and civilian aid.

Baradar is the most important Taliban leader to be captured since the 2001 U.S.-led offensive that ousted the Afghan militia from power after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

We've seen an increase in Pakistani pushback on extremists in their own country, which I think is beneficial not simply for us

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs

Major assault

His arrest emerged as 15,000 U.S., NATO and Afghan troops staged a major assault against the Taliban bastion of Marjah in southern Afghanistan, key to Washington's new strategy for turning around the troubled war.

The Taliban on Tuesday denied Baradar's capture and accused U.S. officials of trying to deflect attention from the battle in Marjah.

"He is currently in Afghanistan, where he is leading all jihadi activities... The sole goal of such baseless reporting and propaganda is to make up for the failure in Marjah," Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP.

Islamabad's ties with the United States are controversial in Pakistan, where the government initially stopped short of confirming or denying that Baradar was in custody, but criticized the report as "propaganda."

The United States has previously taken out other Taliban figures, often in missile strikes by unmanned drones, but none as senior as Baradar, who ran day-to-day operations for the insurgency.

The Afghan-born Baradar is known as a powerful military chief and trusted aide to the Taliban's one-eyed and elusive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

"Mullah Baradar was a close friend of Mullah Omar and both are of the same age group. He was among some 30 people considered founders of the Taliban movement," said Pakistan-based Taliban expert Rahimullah Yusufzai.

Born in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan to the Popalzai tribe, Baradar fought in the war, covertly backed by the United States and Pakistan, to expel the Soviet forces that occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s.

When the Taliban rose to power in 1996, Baradar's ties to Omar helped secure him the position of deputy defense minister, before the hardline Taliban regime was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 for sheltering al-Qaeda.

He is currently in Afghanistan, where he is leading all jihadi activities... The sole goal of such baseless reporting and propaganda is to make up for the failure in Marjah

Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi

Investor worries

While investors have grown used to violence in Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun northwest on the Afghan border, trouble in Karachi has a more direct impact on financial markets.

A city of 18 million people, Karachi generates 68 percent of government revenue and 25 percent of Pakistan's gross domestic product.

"The initial reaction to the news of Mullah Baradar's arrest was 'oh no! not in Karachi!', but the fact that he has been arrested is good news in itself," said Khalid Iqbal Siddiqui, director of research at brokers Invest and Finance Securities.

"While the presence of such high-profile militants in the city is a concern, incidents of violence worry investors more and so far the feeling is that the fears of Talibanization here are exaggerated," he said.

The stock market did not react to Baradar's arrest on Tuesday and the index was up 1.13 percent at 9,880.25 at 0825 GMT on Wednesday.

The initial reaction to the news of Mullah Baradar's arrest was 'oh no! not in Karachi!', but the fact that he has been arrested is good news in itself

Khalid Iqbal Siddiqui, director of research at brokers Invest and Finance Securities