Last fall, Pakistan launched an offensive against the Taliban in South Waziristan which was welcomed by the U.S. as a critical step in cracking down on the Taliban on the Pakistani side of the border. When Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s number 2 commander, was arrested in Pakistan in February it seemed to be a sign of even more cooperation in the fight against the Taliban. The Pakistanis have arrested at least four other senior Taliban figures since then, including two shadow governors. It appeared that Pakistan was finally going to get serious helping the U.S. go after the Taliban inside Pakistan.
Yet Pakistan has not mounted a serious offensive in North Waziristan, where the “Afghan Taliban” is believed to be headquartered. And now the Pakistanis’ motivation in arresting Baradar and other Taliban leaders is being questioned. This week, Kai Eide, the former UN envoy to Afghanistan said that Pakistan arrested the Taliban leaders not to cooperate, but to undermine negotiations between the UN and the Taliban. According to Eide, the UN had been engaged in negotiations with senior Taliban leadership and those negotiations abruptly ended with the recent arrests. In an interview with the BBC Eide said that: “[The Pakistanis] must have known who they were, what kind of role they were playing, and you see the result today.” Eide suggested that Pakistan’s motivation was to ensure its own control over any future settlement.
U.S. officials have been downplaying Eide’s comments, saying that talks were preliminary and the arrests have not scuttled peace plans. This is undoubtedly correct; it is doubtful that the UN and the Taliban were close to any kind of deal. However, Eide’s comments underscore just how difficult it is to decipher intentions in the region. Pakistan has been playing all sides for years. Most experts agree that elements within Pakistan are still pro-Taliban and think that Pakistan’s best chance of controlling Afghanistan in the long run is to maintain covert ties with the Taliban. Perhaps Pakistan has arrested some leaders to shield them from drone strikes or to use them as pawns in a diplomatic game. They can relieve U.S. pressure through timely arrests. And as Eide suggested, perhaps they used arrests to undermine a peace deal that they couldn’t control. Whatever the case may be, Pakistani intentions remain opaque which is troubling since they are undoubtedly the key to any kind of lasting peace in Afghanistan.