Another top Taliban leader has been arrested in Pakistan, the latest in a string of captures that risks strengthening the insurgency's hard-line base.
Maulavi Abdul Kabir, a onetime governor of eastern Afghanistan before the overthrow of the Taliban regime, was arrested by Pakistani forces, Taliban and Afghan government sources confirmed.
He is believed to have been arrested as recently as Saturday in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, home of the Taliban's Peshawar shura, a council of advisers second only to the Taliban's ruling Quetta shura. Maulavi Kabir was positioned at the top of the Peshawar shura .
"He was governor of Nangarhar, the largest and most important eastern province of the country, and Logar [province] and was currently leading the insurgency in the whole eastern zone," Kabul-based analyst Abdulhadi Hairan said.
It comes after the recent arrest in Karachi of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's second-in-command and a prominent figure in the Quetta shura , as well as the detention of two Taliban shadow governors. The four arrests took place within the past two months in Pakistan, and have been revealed in the past week.
The arrest of men at the top of the two major shuras is considered a strong achievement, but one that may only remove moderate voices from the insurgency.
"Of course, these arrests are very important for the international community. To say those commanders who … are threatening the survival of this nation and this state, they [the arrests]are important," said Waliullah Rahmani, executive director of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies.
"[But]for the Afghan government, which wants some effective peacemakers within the insurgency, I don't think that, for example, Baradar's arrest has been productive, based on their own thinking. … It shows that many [Taliban-friendly]elements within the Pakistani government and Quetta shura never wanted Baradar to decide the destiny of insurgents in Afghanistan."
Some experts now warn the arrests of Mullah Baradar and Maulavi Kabir push the Taliban further from reconciliation with the Afghan government.
"The lesson to all of this - the bumper sticker - is that this has really left the hard core in control of the Taliban. And that has all kinds of implications with reconciliation," said Thomas Johnson, director of the program for culture and conflict studies at California's Naval Postgraduate School.
While "these are pretty big fish," the arrests "in some ways [are]sabotaging the operation," he said.
The four arrests are significant for Pakistan in the fight against the Taliban, but it's unclear what Pakistan's motive is - whether it's changing direction by cracking down on the Taliban, or simply arresting Taliban members outside of its control before reconciliation talks heat up.
"Thus Pakistan gave a strong message to both the U.S. and the Taliban. The U.S. got this message: We have control over these people, we can capture them, we can disrupt both of their important shuras , but you have to trust on us and have to give us an important role in the reconciliation. … To the Taliban, Pakistan had this message: You cannot ignore us, your direct talks or contact with the U.S. or Afghan government is never going to work," Mr. Hairan, an analyst at Kabul's Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies and a local journalist, said. "Once Pakistan gets this central role in the reconciliation process, it will insist on installing its favourite Afghan Taliban in the government."
Maulavi Kabir was the second deputy of Afghanistan's council of minister's during the Taliban regime.
"Abdul Kabir is one of the high-ranking Taliban officials," Mr. Rahmani said. "He was someone who was active since the Taliban was established and founded in 1994." He is suspected to have close ties with Mullah Mohammed Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban who remains at large, as well as with al-Qaeda.
Prof. Johnson, a long-time observer and authority on Afghan issues, said the whole situation is "foggy." It's unclear if Mullah Baradar is co-operating with interrogation and disclosing the location of top Taliban officials such as Mullah Kabir, but "if there's anyone who knows where Mullah Omar is, it's Baradar," Prof. Johnson said. He said the arrests should not be viewed as categorical wins for the coalition.
"I think that in many respects, the U.S. and NATO are grasping at straws. They're posturing. They recognize it's a very difficult situation and they're grabbing at anything that might look good. So, I think we have to look at statements of optimism [about the arrests]very critically," he said. "But there's one hypothesis - that this is all helping to shore up the hard-liners' control."