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Joint US-Pakistani Raid Captures Top Taliban Commander

A Pakistani man reads an Urdu-language evening newspaper reporting the capture of a top Taliban commander at a news stand in Karachi, 16 Feb 2010

U.S. officials say American and Pakistani intelligence forces together captured the Afghan Taliban's top military commander several days ago in Pakistan. Officials say the commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is the most significant Taliban figure detained since the war in Afghanistan started eight years ago. The New York Times first reported news of the arrest late Monday.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is the Afghan Taliban's most influential member after the group's spiritual leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar.

Media reports quote U.S. officials as saying a secret joint operation between the United States and Pakistan captured the Taliban leader in Karachi. Officials say Baradar is in Pakistani custody, with American and Pakistani authorities taking part in interrogations.

Taliban representatives denied Baradar had been arrested, but they did not provide any evidence to support their claim.

Speaking in Islamabad, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik would not confirm the report of Baradar's arrest.

But he said that since the U.S.-led coalition invaded the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in southern Afghanistan several days ago, Pakistan has arrested suspected militants who have fled across the border.

"There are a number of arrests of people who were running away from Afghanistan and coming to Pakistan. And we are very much alert. The day we get any information [of] who are they, we will tell the people of Pakistan," said Malik.

He also said that it is true the United States and Pakistan share intelligence information. But he stressed that Pakistan is a sovereign nation and does not allow foreign forces to take part in anti-militancy raids within its borders.

The director of the Islamabad-based Institute of Regional Studies, Jamshed Ayaz, tells VOA news of Baradar's arrest coupled with an increase in pressure from the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan could put the Afghan government in a stronger position to bring the Taliban to reconciliation talks. "It is a time when you have a fight, you are on top, then you give a call for negotiations. Then hopefully, they will negotiate because they are in terrible trouble," he said.

Analysts say if Baradar has been arrested, any information gleaned from his interrogation could lead to the arrest of other key Taliban commanders believed to be hiding in Pakistan's border areas with Afghanistan, including the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar.