Reports of the arrests or deaths of several Taliban commanders in Afghanistan and Pakistan have emerged over the past month. The most significant of these events were the arrests of six Afghan Taliban leaders since Jan. 26 — four of whom were captured in Pakistan. It is not clear if these incidents are linked or if they are even truly arrests; it also is not clear when these leaders were arrested — only when the arrests were reported. Also, information released so far has come from the Pakistani security establishment, which means Islamabad is releasing this information with a specific interest in mind.
Afghan Taliban arrested
Mullah Abdul Salam — in Faisalabad, Pakistan (reported Jan. 26), Shadow governor of Kunduz province
Mullah mir Muhammad — in Faisalabad (reported Jan 26), Shadow governor of Baghlan province
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar — in Karachi (reported Feb. 15 ), Second in command of Afghan Taliban
Maulvi Abdul Kabir — in Nowshera (reported Feb. 20), Former shadow governor of Nangarhar
Mullah Ramazan — in Kandahar, Afghanistan (reported Feb. 21), Commander in Herat province
Mullah Shikh — in Kandahar (reported Feb. 21), Commander in Herat province
Afghan Taliban killed
Sarraj Uddin (aka Hikmat Minhaj) – in Helmand province, Afghanistan (reported Feb. 15), Coordinator of foreign fighters
Mohammed Haqqani — North Waziristan, Pakistan (Feb. 18), Member of the Haqqani network ruling family
The uptick in arrests could have a number of causes and implications. First, the Afghan Taliban have traditionally been favored by Islamabad as Pakistan's strategic partner in controlling its western border with Afghanistan. Arresting Taliban leaders, thus rendering them unable to assist the Taliban in Afghanistan, serves U.S. interests in Afghanistan; so these arrests could demonstrate closer cooperation between the United States and Pakistan. If this is the case, it is not yet clear whether these arrests are symbolic gestures from the Pakistanis during a heavily publicized operation in Marjah, or if it represents a more fundamental shift against the Afghan Taliban. Second, these arrests could have been the result of an intelligence breakthrough that led the United States and Pakistan to these individuals, who previously had kept themselves successfully hidden. Each arrest may have led to further intelligence, leading to further arrests. Such a cascade of arrests also was seen by U.S. Joint Special Operations Command during the surge in Iraq. Third, Islamabad could be going after these Afghan Taliban commanders as a means of putting pressure on their compatriots in Afghanistan to force negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban, with Pakistan playing the mediator. The individuals who have been captured so far in Pakistan are certainly of enough stature to be representatives in such high-level negotiations. It is even possible that they were intentionally lured into Pakistan in order for Islamabad to gain access to them. This could explain why, for example, Afghan Taliban shadow provincial governors Mullah Abdul Salam and Mullah Mir Mohammad were in northwest Pakistan. Ultimately, the Pakistani security apparatus is controlling the flow of information on these arrests, so there is little verification of what actually is happening inside Pakistan. However, the sudden arrests of high-level Afghan Taliban leaders and the high degree to which these arrests were publicized is certainly a shift in how Pakistan has handled the Afghan Taliban recently.