How Taliban Leader's Capture Will Change the Afghan War

Without Mullah Baradar, the Taliban's options are running out

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A joint U.S.-Pakistan operation has captured Mullah Baradar, the second-ranking official in the Afghan Taliban. Baradar, the Taliban's de facto military commander and second to political-ideological chief Mullah Omar, was seized in Pakistan and is currently under interrogation. His capture marks a high-profile victory for the war in Afghanistan and a significant blow to the Taliban. It also advances the possibility of a reconciliation with the Taliban. What effect could his capture have on the war and the long-term mission for peace and stability in Afghanistan?

  • Operational Devastation for Taliban   National security think-tanker Michael Cohen beams, "This has the potential to change the entire complexion of the war in Afghanistan - and for the better. For the first time in a very long time, there is reason for optimism." Cohen says "the Taliban may be losing the military initiative" and will be severely weakened by the apparent loss of its "safe haven" in parts of Pakistan.
  • Risks Radicalizing Taliban The Guardian's Jason Burke notes that Baradar was relatively moderate and the vacuum his absence leaves within Taliban leadership may be filled by much nastier elements. "In removing Baradar, the west may have inadvertently moved the Taliban in a more extreme direction by strengthening the latter." But Burke thinks such radicalization "may eventually work to the west's advantage" by degrading the local support Baradar had earned by his moderate practices.
The ultimate point of fighting the Taliban is to compel them to give up fighting and accept some version of a post-Taliban order in Afghanistan. Torturing Baradar -- which the Pakistanis have been known to do -- is counterproductive to that effort. If we treat the guy respectfully, in a demonstrated way, it might spur a reconsideration of Taliban goals. I am not counting any chickens, but any hope of a game-changing possibility will be foreclosed upon if we or our allies torture Baradar.
  • ...Will It Make Reconciliation Harder?   Middle East think-tanker Colin Cookman worries that Baradar's capture "has potential to fragment the movement, make whole-scale reconciliation more difficult even as it degrades capabilities."
  • This Isn't About Reconciliation  The Economist thinks U.S. strategy could be to capture more Taliban leaders, rather than spur their reconciliation. "Mullah Baradar could somehow help in the apprehension of the Taliban chief, Mullah Omar, and in exposing the underground Taliban network inside Pakistan." Same with "al-Qaeda leaders, who are thought to be hiding on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan."
  • Will Successor Be Worse or Weaker?  Registan's Joshua Foust asks. "Much like the assassination of Nek Mohammed is what gave us five years of Baitullah Mehsud, there is a chance that Baradar's successor will be much worse. There is also the chance he'll be weaker and less formidable." Foust is "cautiously optimistic" about the outcome. "[H]ere is the bottom line: this is a big deal."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.