The arrest of the Taliban's chief of operations, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is certainly a welcome development in the war in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, it's difficult to put the arrest in context. What does Baradar's arrest mean for the ISAF effort in Afghanistan?
The effect on the Taliban:
Some, such as CIA veteran Bruce Reidel, have claimed that Baradar's arrest could "cripple" the Taliban, at least temporarily. While this will certainly cause some disorientation, particularly while NATO is on the offensive in Helmand Province, I'm not quite so optimistic that it will be that devastating. As Joshua Foust notes, the Taliban have suffered the loss of other top-level commanders before, with little setbacks. Similar insurgent groups, such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, have also suffered the loss of one or two top leaders and kept on fighting. Nevertheless, the NYT reports that six members of the 19-man inner Taliban circle have been killed or captured in the last three years. However, others inevitably stepped up to fill their slots.
What it means for Pakistan:
After years of Pakistani agencies--particularly the ISI and Frontier Corps--blatantly supporting the Afghan Taliban, we suddenly see the arrest of a major Taliban official.
The Wall Street Journal offers the view that General Stanley McChrystal convinced the Pakistanis that cracking down on the Afghan Taliban--seen as a proxy for Pakistan--meant dealing a blow to the Pakistani Taliban, which has proven to be a thorn in Pakistan's side recently, staging a number of daring raids within 100 miles of Islamabad.
Others, however, echo the belief that Pakistan's actions are less than altruistic, and often come with ulterior motives.
Baradar had reportedly fallen out of favor with Mullah Mohammed Omar for a few reasons. The first was bureaucratic--Baradar had selected commanders without the the approval of Mullah Omar. (So much for those who think the Taliban operates without micromanagement) The second involves Baradar's alleged "negotiations" with the Afghan government and potentially even the US and Pakistan. According to Josh Foust, Baradar is seen as a less extreme Taliban commander--even writing the Taliban's insurgency field manual as a way to balance some of the Taliban's more heavy-handed approach.
Wait, is this the Taliban's Petraeus?
This, as Foust continues, means that Baradar's successor might be more heavy-handed. Nevertheless, peeling away some of the softer elements of the Taliban can certainly be a welcome development. In fact, some feel strongly that not only will he talk, but that he will be able to negotiate while in prison.
The bit about negotiation while in captivity kind of baffles me--apparently I heard that this was used in the case of the Northern Irish, but I'm not certain how much negotiating one can do in captivity. Can the Kings of War help me on this one? Is someone who has, apparently, been written off by the "mainline" Taliban be in any position to strike a bargain?
Bonus: Foreign Policy's Af-Pak Channel has a decent roundup, and does a good job of describing Baradar's importance in the organization.