The Taliban have denied reports that their top military commander has been arrested in Pakistan.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is said to have been captured in a joint US-Pakistani intelligence operation in Karachi ten days ago, but the Taliban in Afghanistan insist he is still free.
He’s said to be number two only to the Taliban’s spiritual leader Mullah Omar. The Americans describe his arrest as a “very big deal”.
But in the Pakistani city of Quetta, Taliban supporters have played down its significance.
“It won’t make a difference if Mullah Baradar has been arrested or martyred,” said Mualvi Noor Muhammad, leader of the Tehreeq Nifaz Shariat. “Very soon after, Mullah Omar is going to automatically appoint another person to his position”.
The operation to arrest Mullah Baradar suggests that Pakistan is getting tough with Taliban leaders. He reportedly commanded operations in southern Afghanistan, scene of a major NATO offensive against insurgents around Marjah.
If confirmed his arrest could damage the Taliban’s effectiveness in the area, where booby traps have been slowing up NATO’s progress.
Mullah Baradar is said to have been responsible for the Taliban tactic of planting what are known as “flowers” – improvised bombs along roadsides.
NATO says the offensive has made headway. But its credibility rests on limiting civilian casualties like the recent victims of two mistaken attacks as it tries to win people’s hearts and minds.