Leading article: A multi-track approach to Afghanistan

Wednesday 17 February 2010 01:00 GMT

Much remains murky about the capture of the Taliban's second-in-command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Few details have been released beyond the information that he was detained in Karachi as the result of a joint operation between the CIA and Pakistan's intelligence service. It is not clear, for instance, how far it is accurate to say that he was taken prisoner and how far he might have been detained with a view to opening talks with the Afghan government. The two are not mutually exclusive, but they are not completely the same thing.

Nor has it been revealed whether Mullah Baradar's capture was the result of new intelligence, gleaned either by the United States or Pakistan, or whether his whereabouts were known, at least to the Pakistan authorities, and it was simply a question of their lifting any immunity he might have enjoyed. Senior members of the Taliban cross between Afghanistan and northern Pakistan with relative impunity and are suspected of maintaining privileged links with some parts of Pakistan intelligence.

We may not know whether Mullah Baradar's capture is designed primarily to emasculate the Taliban's top command or somehow to start a process of rapprochement, but his arrest still communicates something significant. It makes clear that the United States is not pursuing a single-track policy towards Afghanistan. Operation Moshtarak, which began last weekend in an effort to restore Afghan government control over a key part of Helmand Province, now looks like one part of a more complex approach – one that does not rely exclusively on firepower or on territorial conquest.

It has been easy to forget in recent weeks, as the Nato-Afghan "surge" against the Taliban drew closer, that President Obama sees Pakistan as an integral part of establishing security in Afghanistan. His administration has insisted from the start on pursuing a so-called "Af-Pak" strategy. President Asif Ali Zardari's decision to use the Pakistan army to drive the Taliban from the tribal areas was one part of that plan. Targeting key Taliban leaders now looks like another. But more pieces of the jigsaw have still to fall into place.

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