Pakistan arrests former Taliban spokesman

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The Independent Online

Pakistan has arrested Ustad Mohammed Yasir, a former Taliban spokesman, according to intelligence officials. The move may reassure Western officials concerned that tension with India is distracting Pakistan from fighting militants on the Afghan border.

Yasir was caught on Thursday during a raid on his relatives' house in Peshawar.

The Taliban's fugitive leader, Mullah Omar, is believed to have sent Yasir to Pakistan last year to mediate between two Taliban groups in the Mohmand tribal area on the Afghan border. He had served as his spokesman since the fall of the regime in 2001.

While the Taliban leader is still at large, Pakistan has now arrested Yasir twice. The first time was in 2005, when he was sent to Afghanistan. However, he was subsequently released along with four other Taliban members in exchange for an Italian journalist, Daniele Mastrogiacomo. The Afghan and Italian governments were heavily criticised for the swap – a step a number of observers feared would encourage more kidnappings.

Many Taliban and al-Qa'ida militants fled to Pakistan after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of the September 2001 attacks on America. Washington pushed Pakistan to crack down on the militants, who regrouped in the country's north-west and launched attacks against Western forces across the border. Pakistan's military has launched several operations along the border, including one last week in the Khyber Pass to secure the main supply route for US troops and their Nato allies. But the West has questioned Islamabad's willingness to target a movement it backed before 2001.