THE CAPTURE in Pakistan of the Afghan Taliban’s operations chief, Mullah Baradar, looks like a victory in more ways than one. It weakens the enemy in Afghanistan and indicates that Pakistani leaders have finally decided that their interests in Afghanistan are compatible with America’s. But there is another, less encouraging explanation of why Pakistan’s shadowy Inter-Services Intelligence Agency suddenly decided to seize the Taliban’s number-two leader, after hosting him for years while he directed the Taliban movement officially headed by Mullah Omar.
Pakistani leaders know that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been seeking reconciliation talks with the Taliban and that Baradar approved contacts between Taliban leaders and Karzai’s brother. An agreement between the Taliban and the Karzai government could deprive Pakistan of influence in next-door Afghanistan. That prospect disturbs Pakistani leaders, who have long tried to maximize their power in Afghanistan to keep it from linking up with Pakistan’s rival, India.
Pakistan’s powerful army chief, General Ashraf Kayani, recently said his country has “opened all doors’’ to cooperation with US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. But he warned that Pakistan’s “strategic paradigm has to be realized’’ in Afghanistan. He meant a postwar Afghan government friendly to Pakistan and resistant to India. This has been the obsessive aim of Pakistani policy in Afghanistan ever since Pakistani intelligence forces midwifed the birth of the Taliban in the mid-’90s.
It’s helpful to the American cause if Pakistan now believes its best chance of maintaining influence in Afghanistan is to cooperate with US and NATO forces. But it would be deeply damaging if Pakistan were to try to block peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Karzai government.
US military commanders in Afghanistan have wisely insisted that the war be concluded by political means. The current troop surge is aimed at convincing insurgent factions to seek a peace deal with the Afghan government. So President Obama needs to warn Pakistan that true cooperation means helping, not hindering, such an agreement. .