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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pakistanis Tell of Motive in Taliban Leader’s Arrest


By DEXTER FILKINS nytimes

Published: August 22, 2010

“ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — When American and Pakistani agents captured Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s operational commander, in the chaotic port city of Karachi last January, both countries hailed the arrest as a breakthrough in their often difficult partnership in fighting terrorism.

“But the arrest of Mr. Baradar, the second-ranking Taliban leader after Mullah Muhammad Omar, came with a beguiling twist: both American and Pakistani officials claimed that Mr. Baradar’s capture had been a lucky break. It was only days later, the officials said, that they finally figured out who they had.

“Now, seven months later, Pakistani officials are telling a very different story. They say they set out to capture Mr. Baradar, and used the C.I.A. to help them do it, because they wanted to shut down secret peace talks that Mr. Baradar had been conducting with the Afghan government that excluded Pakistan, the Taliban’s longtime backer.

“In the weeks after Mr. Baradar’s capture, Pakistani security officials detained as many as 23 Taliban leaders, many of whom had been enjoying the protection of the Pakistani government for years. The talks came to an end.
“The events surrounding Mr. Baradar’s arrest have been the subject of debate inside military and intelligence circles for months. Some details are still murky — and others vigorously denied by some American intelligence officials in Washington. But the account offered in Islamabad highlights Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan: retaining decisive influence over the Taliban, thwarting archenemy India, and putting Pakistan in a position to shape Afghanistan’s postwar political order.

““We picked up Baradar and the others because they were trying to make a deal without us,” said a Pakistani security official, who, like numerous people interviewed about the operation, spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of relations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. “We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians.” “

-This illustrates the eddy currents in the mire we’ve waded into. We’re paying Pakistan to help us fight the Taliban, even though the Taliban are, and have always been, Pakistani surrogates. You can’t tell the players without a scorecard, and there’s no scorecard to be had. It’s like the “surge” in Iraq where we put both sides on the payroll. In 19th century America, we made little distinction between friendly and hostile Indian tribes; we made war on both. Today we have “collateral damage.” It is hard to win the hearts and minds of people when you are dropping bombs on them.

This story reminded me of Teddy Roosevelt going to the 1888 GOP Convention that took eight ballots to nominate Benjamin Harrison. Roosevelt saw some black delegates sell their vote over and over because the white folks couldn’t tell them apart. In India, some missionaries practice checkbook evangelism, paying poor people to come to Jesus. The next year, they might come back and pay the same people all over again. Aren’t we doing the same thing in Southwest Asia?

How do we get mixed up in these tinderboxes? India/Pakistan, Israel/Palestine, North Korea/South Korea; are we the “blessed peacemakers?” or is there something else going on here. The cost of the Iraq and Afghan wars will consume $170 billion of this year’s $700 billion Defense budget. U.S. troops are stationed in over 150 countries around the world. Is this neocolonialism? Megalomania? Can we sustain this expense and bloodletting? Is it wise? Is it right? Does it make us safer, or are we making tomorrows enemies today?

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