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Pakistan: A Shift in Dealing With the Afghan Taliban?

We are publishing this interesting analysis by a respected think tank. However, it should be clarified that the views expressed here are not those of PTH. The purpose of this post is to inform the readers and elicit responses and debates that may not be possible within the confines of conventional media. Raza Rumi

STRATFOR – February 19, 2010 | 2143 GMT

Summary

Pakistani security officials said Feb. 19 that Mohammed Haqqani, son of Jalaluddin and brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani (the leader of the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan) , was killed in an unmanned aerial vehicle missile strike Feb. 18. The strike comes just after the arrest of Mullah Baradar, the Afghan Taliban’s second-in-command, in Karachi. These two actions against the Afghan Taliban on Pakistani soil could be part of the ongoing shift in U.S.-Pakistani relations, with Pakistan trying to work with the United States to regain influence over the Afghan Taliban and strengthen Islamabad’s position in Afghanistan.

Analysis

Pakistani security officials announced Feb. 18 that Mohammed Haqqani, son of Jalaluddin and brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani (who leads the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan) , was killed in an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) missile strike Feb. 18. Mohammed Haqqani’s role within the Haqqani network is unclear, and even his death is being contradicted by some STRATFOR sources (confirming the death is all but impossible, given the difficulty of obtaining forensic evidence from the scene) but his presumed demise is not likely to seriously affect the group’s operations.
However, the strike targeting Mohammed Haqqani could be linked to the nascent shift in U.S.-Pakistani dealings on Afghanistan. The United States has long pursued Haqqani family members and associates in North Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s tribal belt, using UAV missile strikes. Washington considers the Haqqani network as irreconcilable Taliban, due to the network’s close ties to al Qaeda. The success of the Feb. 18 strike has prompted speculation that the intelligence preceding the attack came from Pakistan.

Pakistan has worked with the United States for some time in targeting al Qaeda and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan in the tribal areas, but it has avoided acting against the Haqqanis and other Pakistani Taliban elements that fight in Afghanistan. Pakistani leaders believe they need the Haqqanis, and the wider Afghan Taliban movement, to exert influence in Afghanistan — a strategic geopolitical imperative for Pakistan.

However, Mohammed Haqqani’s presumed death comes in the context of a major, unprecedented move by the Pakistanis to crack down on the Afghan Taliban. Earlier in February, Pakistan arrested the Afghan Taliban’s second-in-command, Mullah Baradar, in a raid on a house in Karachi. While few details are known about this arrest (it is not even clear whether it was an arrest or a ruse; he appears to be in custody but the exact circumstances are unclear), it appears to be an example of Pakistan’s increasing aggressiveness toward the Afghan Taliban.

The alleged killing of Mohammad Haqqani and arrest of Baradar appear to be much more in line with the United States’ interests in Afghanistan than Pakistan’s. Right now, Washington and Islamabad are relying on each other heavily: The United States needs Pakistani assistance to wrap up the military mission in Afghanistan, while Pakistan is interested in working with the United States to eliminate Afghan Taliban elements that are not in line with Pakistani strategy. In fact, if Pakistan is indeed involved in the move against the Haqqani network, this interest in eliminating some Afghan Taliban could be the reason for it.

Pakistan is interested in hiving off al Qaeda from the Haqqani network in order to convince the United States that the Haqqani network is in fact a reconcilable faction of the Taliban. By surgically removing certain elements of the Haqqani-al Qaeda relationship, Pakistan could achieve this. In the past, Pakistan has arrested one of the Haqqani brothers in order to contain the family and keep the Haqqanis’ al Qaeda connections from undermining Pakistan’s interests. This strategy would be in keeping with Pakistan’s need to align its distinction of good and bad Taliban with the U.S. dichotomy of reconcilable and irreconcilable Taliban.

Since few details are available and confirmations are pending, it is not certain that the alleged killing of Mohammed Haqqani and the alleged arrest of a top Afghan Taliban leader are indeed part of this strategy. But these two developments certainly signal that relations between the United States and Pakistan bear watching as the countries attempt to come to terms on how to address Afghanistan and reach a consensus on which factions of the Taliban can stay and which should be removed.

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