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Taliban chief Baradar captured in 'daring raid'

The military head of the Afghan Taliban who is considered to be second only to Mullah Omar in overall command of the militant network has been captured in a secret raid jointly carried out by Pakistani and US operatives.

Officials said Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who oversaw military operations against Western forces across Afghanistan, was seized in the Pakistani city of Karachi.

He is now reportedly being interrogated by Pakistani and US officials at an undisclosed location.

The Taliban said the announcement of his capture was a propaganda stunt at a time when Nato forces were engaged in a major offensive in southern Afghanistan, centred on the town of Marjah, a former Taliban stronghold.

If confirmed, the capture of Baradar represents the most senior Taliban figure to have been detained since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

“A large number of people have fled the Nato operation in Afghanistan and crossed into Pak

istan. We have picked up many. We are investigating them and right now we cannot divulge their identity,” Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik said when asked about the arrest.

Analysts said that while the capture might represent a significant PR coup for the US, it is unlikely to have a lasting effect on the Taliban.

However, officials voiced hopes that questioning him might lead to the seizing of other militants and provide clues to the whereabouts of Mullah Omar and members of the Quetta Shura, the shadowy body that directs the Taliban's operations.

The capture of Baradar, in a joint operation conducted by the ISI and the CIA, reportedly 10 days ago, may indicate increasingly closer co-operation between the intelligence agencies of the two countries as well as a shift in tactics from Pakistan.

Until now Islamabad has resisted US pressure to target those militants responsible for cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.

The US has repeatedly complained that many within the Pakistani military, which controls the ISI, still considered the Afghan Taliban a strategic asset that it wished to maintain close links with in order to counter US and Indian influence inside Afghanistan.

Baradar was also said to have enjoyed a relationship with the ISI at some point. “I think you have to go back to 2003 and 2004 when Pakistan's intelligence agencies cooperated with the US over the capture of a number of al-Qa'ida figures,” said defence analyst Hasan-Askari Rizvi, referring to events such as the 2003 capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, accused over the September 11 attacks.

Yet much about Baradar's capture, in the Baldia Town district of Karachi, remains very unclear and its timing will raise suspicions that may be linked to efforts by the US and Nato to enter into talks with moderate Taliban fighters as a way of ending an increasingly costly and unpopular war.

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