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How to Capture Leaders and (Negatively) Influence People

March 18, 2010

The US has lately been giving itself a lot of credit for the success of its new strategy in Afghanistan, and “turning the corner” on US-Pakistani relations, finally convincing a recalcitrant ISI to ignore its narrow-minded realpolitik for the greater good of regional stability. To this end, there have been a number of major arrests in Pakistan to capture high-ranking members of the Afghan Taliban.

Except it appears that Baradar, among others, may have been involved in talks with Karzai. Though the US has never established a policy of negotiating with the Taliban, it has kept the option open as an incentive for fighters to leave the insurgency and cooperate with the US and the Afghan government. Karzai, who has a much stronger incentive to negotiate with the Taliban than we do once the US leaves, has periodically reached out to the insurgency. Though the Taliban are not always reliable, neither have been the US (or Pakistan, in their many truces with the Pakistani Taliban), and often the counterinsurgents decide to go in for the kill before the insurgency breaks the truce.

As Joshua Foust points out, we have now constructed a serious obstacle to prospects of negotiating with or “peeling the onion” of the insurgency. The US reputation is such that if you are a Taliban commander with high amounts of influence and you believe you can get a better deal from the Afghan government, then you are setting yourself up for capture, detention or worse. So much for winning those hearts and minds. As for Pakistan’s newfound harmony of interests and objectives? It certainly appears less reliable – knocking off Taliban commanders growing closer to Kabul than Islamabad while the “hardcore” Taliban and groups such as the Haqqani network remain intact is a decent long-term strategy for appearing to cooperate with the US while maintaining the ability to intervene in Afghanistan post-withdrawal.

What seems more likely, now – the ISI had a genuine change of heart but just coincidentally chose to go after allies outliving their usefulness, or that the agency with a bigger stake in the Afghan endgame just pulled off another power play?

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