US envoy Richard Holbrooke on Friday praised the arrests of Taliban leaders, despite a former UN envoy’s claim that they disrupt reconciliation efforts with the group.
A slew of senior Taliban chiefs have reportedly been captured in Pakistan in recent weeks. Among them was Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, captured last month in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi in what US media said was a joint operation with US spies.
“We are extremely gratified that the Pakistani government has apprehended the No. 2 person in the Taliban, and he is where he belongs. And many other people have been picked up or eliminated, and this is putting much more pressure on the Taliban,” said Holbrooke, Washington’s envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “And this is a good thing for the simplest of reasons. It is good for the military efforts that are underway in Afghanistan.”
He declined to comment on claims by Kai Eide, the former UN special representative to Afghanistan, who said the arrests stopped a secret UN-Taliban channel of communications. Holbrooke told reporters he had been aware of the channel, although Obama administration officials had not been involved.
He recalled that US President Barack Obama has publicly backed Afghan-led reconciliation, but made a distinction between “reintegration” and “reconciliation.”
The envoy also lent support to Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s plans for a reconciliation program with all Afghans, including those fighting with the Taliban.
Eide, who stepped down from the post earlier this month, confirmed for the first time he had been holding talks with senior Taliban figures and said they started around a year ago.
Face-to-face talks were held with “senior figures in the Taliban leadership” in Dubai and other locations, the diplomat told the BBC, adding that the movement’s leader Mullah Omar had given the process the green light.
But he said the channel was disrupted with the arrest of Taliban commanders in Pakistan, a move the US has welcomed as a sign the country is increasingly willing to track down Afghan militant leaders.
Eide said the detentions had a “negative” effect on attempts to find a political solution to the eight-year-old Afghan war and suggested Pakistan had deliberately tried to undermine the negotiations.
He noted there were now many channels of communication with the Taliban, including with Karzai representatives.
Meanwhile, the US needs a clear policy on questioning suspected extremists, a Republican US senator said on Friday, saying that top officials had sown confusion about Osama bin Laden’s fate if captured.
“Our first goal must be to gain timely and life-saving intelligence,” said Kit Bond, vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a frequent critic of Obama’s handling of the global war on terrorism.
“Unfortunately, our nation has no coherent detainee and interrogation policy in place to ensure we get the intelligence needed to catch terrorists and prevent attacks,” Bond said in a statement.
The Missouri senator pointed to what he said was confusion among top US officials who offered seemingly contradictory explanations of what to do with the elusive al-Qaeda leader and author of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
On Tuesday, US Attorney General Eric Holder told lawmakers that bin Laden would never be read his legal rights or face trial in the US because he will not be captured alive.
During a heated exchange with Republican lawmakers, Holder predicted that “we will be reading Miranda rights to the corpse of Osama bin Laden” rather than to the US public enemy number one in captivity.
“Let’s deal with reality,” the attorney general said. Bin Laden “will never appear in an American courtroom.”
On Wednesday, however, the top military commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, said it was “understood by everyone” that US forces still aimed to capture the al-Qaeda chief.
Asked by a reporter if troops under his command had “given up” on trying to capture bin Laden, General Stanley McChrystal said: “Wow, no.”
“If Osama bin Laden comes inside Afghanistan, which is the writ of my mandate ... we certainly would go after trying to capture him alive and bring him to justice,” he said in a teleconference.
Intelligence officials say bin Laden is likely hiding in Pakistan, along the mountainous border with Afghanistan.
Bond, who recently sparred with the White House over the handling of the so-called Christmas Day bomber, said he aimed to work with Democrats and the administration “to develop a coherent detainee and interrogation policy that safeguards Americans and American values.”
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