So the Americans and the Pakistanis together have captured Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar! Mullah Abdul was described in the New York Times report of the capture as the Taliban's "top military commander" and "the most significant Taliban figure to be detained" since the U.S. jumped into Afghanistan more than eight years ago. I found two things striking about the capture. First, there's the shock and awe generated by the news that the American and Pakistani intelligence agencies actually worked together. Then comes the "WTF" reaction to the news that Mullah Abdul was not dragged out of some cave in the Tora Bora mountains, but out of a house in Karachi, Pakistan's largest metropolis. Karachi is a major port city, on the Arabian Sea, and unless it has moved since I last looked it is several hundred miles from the Afghan border.
Immediately following the shock, awe, and WTF, I wondered, What did Mullah Abdul do to p*** off the Pakistanis? The Pakistani spookhouse, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (I.S.I.) almost certainly knew Abdul's whereabouts long before they decided to serve him up to the C.I.A. The I.S.I.'s duplicity in its dealings with the Americans has long been a bone of contention between the intelligence services. Even when the Americans know where a bad guy is holed up they can't just barge in with guns blazing because they need a Pakistani escort. The I.S.I. has routinely refused to provide the escort, calling the Americans' information flawed, and the bad guys slip away.
So does the joint C.I.A.-I.S.I. capture of a Big Bad Guy -- the reputed Number Two behind Mullah Omar -- mean that Pakistan has finally decided to work with the U.S. instead of against us? Or, at a minimum, will Pakistan bestir itself to swat a few Taliban flies instead of just sitting motionless while the U.S. pours money on its noggin? I'm not sure.
Bruce Reidel, who used to work for the C.I.A. and is an extremely bright fellow, helped formulate the Obama Administration's policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is quoted by the NYT as saying that the Abdul snatch represents a "sea change in Pakistani behavior." I hope he's right. But I think it's more likely a rogue wave than a sea change. Subsequent events will provide clues.
Will the Taliban mount a serious response to the arrest with fresh attacks on the Pakistani military or government, indicating that the Taliban are seriously unhappy with the Pakistanis? Or will there be a token response, indicating that there has been some sort of quid pro quo arrangement between the Taliban and the I.S.I.? In the shadow world of intelligence agencies, reality, if it can be found at all, often lies several fathoms below the waves. So when two rival spy agencies surface with a big splash, as in the arrest of Mullah Abdul, you can bet there was a lot of subsurface activity, and what we in the public see may in fact be deliberately misleading. As my old political science professor George Blackwell used to say, "Where there's smoke there may be a professional smoke-maker."