WASHINGTON — When Pakistani security officers raided a house outside Karachi in late January, they had no idea that they had just made their most important capture in years.
U.S. intelligence agencies had intercepted communications saying militants with a possible link to the Taliban’s top military commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, were meeting. Tipped off by the Americans, Pakistani counterterrorist officers took several men into custody, meeting no resistance.
Only after a careful process of identification did Pakistani and U.S. officials realize they had captured Baradar himself, the man who has long overseen the Taliban insurgency against U.S., NATO and Afghan troops in Afghanistan.
New details of the raid indicate that the arrest of the No. 2 Taliban leader was not necessarily the result of a new determination by Pakistan to go after the Taliban, or a bid to improve its strategic position in the region. Rather, it may be something more prosaic: “a lucky accident,” as one U.S. official called it. “No one knew what they were getting,” he said.
Relations between the intelligence services of the United States and Pakistan have long been marred by mutual suspicions that Pakistan has sheltered the Afghan Taliban. The Pakistanis have long denied it.
Baradar’s capture was followed by the arrests of two Taliban “shadow governors” elsewhere in Pakistan. While the arrests showed a degree of Pakistani cooperation, they also demonstrated how the Taliban leadership has depended on Pakistan as a rear base.
Jostling over the prize began as soon as Baradar was identified. Officials with the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s military spy agency, limited American access to Baradar, not permitting direct questioning by CIA officers until about two weeks after the raid, according to U.S. officials who discussed the issue on condition of anonymity.
“The Pakistanis are an independent partner, and sometimes they show it,” said one U.S. official briefed on the matter. “We don’t always love what they do, but if it weren’t for them, Mullah Baradar and a lot of other terrorists would still be walking around killing people.”
Baradar is talking a little, though he is viewed as a formidable, hard-line opponent whose interrogation will be a long-term effort, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.