Fri, Mar 26, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Taliban promotes ex-Guantanamo detainee

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , KABUL

The Taliban’s supreme leader has replaced his top deputy with a relatively young but hardened fighter, an indication of the Taliban’s determination to push ahead with its insurgency despite the recent arrests of a handful of high-level commanders in Pakistan, according to Afghans and Pakistanis close to the Taliban.

The new deputy, Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay, has a reputation as a tough fighter with few political skills. He was most recently the Taliban’s commander in southern Afghanistan, but was pulled back into Pakistan, the Taliban’s rear base, earlier this year out of fear that he would be killed or detained, a senior NATO officer said.

He replaces Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was arrested in late January in Karachi, Pakistan, in a joint operation by US and Pakistani intelligence agents.

Most of the Afghans and Pakistanis interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for their safety.

Baradar is one of a number of Taliban leaders captured recently in Pakistan, where the government has historically granted the group sanctuary. He had been the leader of the Taliban leadership council known as the Quetta Shura, named after the Pakistani city where many of the group’s leaders are believed to be hiding.

US officials believe that the Taliban leadership remains confident about their position inside Afghanistan, making it unlikely the movement’s chieftains would be inclined to enter substantive negotiations in the near term.

“The Taliban still believe they are winning and can wait us out,” one senior US intelligence official said. “They are not inclined to accept a bargain.”

Still, the arrests in Pakistan have led to nervousness among Taliban leaders. Supreme leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, appointed Zakir as his deputy without convening the leadership council, according to Waheed Muzhda, a former Taliban official in Kabul who speaks regularly with Taliban leaders.

The Quetta Shura members, Muzhda said, felt too insecure to gather in large numbers.

“Everyone is worried,” he said.

In addition to Baradar, Pakistani authorities recently detained Kabir, another member of the Quetta Shura, and two of the group’s “shadow governors” in Afghanistan. Kabir was later released, however, for reasons that are unclear, according to a Western diplomat in Pakistan and a Pakistani with close ties to the group.

Pakistan also detained another member of the Taliban’s inner circle, Agha Jan Motasim, a former finance minister of the Taliban government before it was driven from power in 2001, according to a Pakistani with close ties to the Taliban. Motasim was captured in Karachi late last month, the Pakistani said.

There were conflicting reports, meanwhile, about the status of another senior Taliban leader, Mansour, the brother of one of the most brutal of the Taliban commanders, Dadullah, who was killed by US and British troops in 2007.

A Pakistani with close ties to the Taliban said on Wednesday that Mansour had also been promoted to serve as a deputy alongside Zakir, though some Afghans disputed that.

The arrests appear to represent a significant shift in tactics by Pakistani security officials, who have allowed Taliban leaders to operate freely in their country for years. The Pakistani military and intelligence services helped create the Taliban in the mid-1990s, and elements of their security services have maintained a shadowy relationship with the group ever since.

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