On the face of it, the capture in January of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's military commander in Afghanistan and Pakistan by US and Pakistani special forces had nothing in common with Iran's scoop in grabbing Abdol Malek Rigi, leader of the Baluchi resistance movement Jund Allah, Tuesday, February 23.
The two men were not acquainted and their organizations had no links, even when Afghan Taliban leaders were headquartered in Pakistani Baluchistan, Jund Allah's base of operations.
Indeed, Jund Allah regarded the Taliban's presence in Baluchistan as an alien invasion. And anyway six months ago, Taliban leaders packed their bags and quit Quetta, operating ever since out of the Karachi province of southeast Pakistan.
All the same, DEBKA-Net-Weekly sources report exclusively, Jund Allah and the Taliban do share a common factor, their ties with Pakistani military Inter-Services Intelligence agency. Given the Washington-Islamabad alliance, this should have given the United States an edge in the Afghanistan war and campaign against Tehran, on which the fate of President Barack Obama's foreign and security policies is finely balanced.
But the ISI secretly turned its back on its American ally and, in the space of a month, conspired with Taliban and Tehran to defeat two important US strategic ventures, thereby seriously damaging the two US-led campaigns.
In so doing, Islamabad began chipping away at the basis of its military cooperation with the US from various self-serving motives. One is its fundamental bid for dominant Pakistani influence in Afghanistan, particularly when the Americans will ultimately leave the embattled country.
The tipoff was a trap
The ISI tipoff in the third week of January, which led undercover US special forces to a hideout in the labyrinthine outskirts of Karachi and Mullah Baradar's capture, was an act to impress the Americans with Pakistan's helpfulness in preparing Operation Moshtarak for take-off in the southern Afghan province of Helmand on Feb. 12.
But in secret, Pakistani intelligence agency engaged in a furtive intrigue against the Americans with the Taliban's Mullah Omar.
The Obama administration had counted heavily on the Taliban going to pieces without their foremost tactician and commander in the face of the combined US-UK-Afghan assault on their Helmand bastions. They were expected to flee the battlefield rather than stand their ground.
(See a separate item on the military situation in Helmand.)
The Americans were familiar with Mullah Baradar's outstanding contribution to the Taliban's military effort in Afghanistan. One source described him as very brave "with the brains of a tactician and the soul of a mujahid."
He first made his mark in 2001 by rescuing paramount leader Mullah Omar who was tied down under a US air bombardment of the Kandahar region after the post-9/11 invasion. He proposed that the Taliban leader and his henchmen ride to safety on motorbikes and persuaded Omar to don a woman's burqa for the flight.
The burqa was borrowed from the family which sheltered the Taliban leaders; Mullah Omar later married the robe's owner as a mark of respect and honor.
Baradar was later credited with the widespread use of IED roadside bombs against American forces. The shadow governments the Taliban installed in southern Afghan regional centers were the offspring of another of his brainwaves. Baradar also wrote the code of conduct governing the Islamist warriors' ethics and morals.
He stepped into the Taliban's military command after the one-legged Mullah Dadullah was killed in 2007 and his successor, the key Taliban shura member Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, was arrested.
Mullah Omar's dual-purpose double-cross
Last month, the Americans were surprised to find Mullah Omar's trust in Baradar unshaken by rumors that his military commander was striking out on his own and coming around to accepting the notion of negotiations with the US. According to some Western media reports, Baradar even facilitated a meeting in Dubai last month between mid-level Taliban commanders and Kai Eide, a top UN official in Kabul. Mullah Omar compounded the puzzle by entrusting him with preparing the Taliban for the coming US offensive.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly intelligence sources, US administration and intelligence officials have belatedly woken up to the fact that Omar and the Pakistani SIS joined forces to lay a double trap.
Both were playing a part.
Omar only pretended to retain Baradar as the Taliban's senior commander, while scheming to end his career.
He quietly gave the ISI the nod to turn Baradar in to the Americans and so portray Pakistan as a faithful American ally in the war against the Taliban. Behind Baradar's back, Oman appointed a row of new commanders to take over Taliban field units as soon as the incumbent was captured.
Mullah Omar acted in pursuance of two objectives:
He purged the Taliban leadership of an element willing to engage the Americans in talks; he also made sure that the loss of its top military commander would not leave a gap and interrupt the movement's ongoing fight against the United States.
Taliban leaders who outlive their usefulness are thrown to the wolves
The Pakistani goal in the conspiracy was simple. A highly-placed Gulf source familiar with Islamabad politics and its covert contacts with the Taliban told DEBKA-Net-Weekly that Mullah Baradar's capture was engineered after Islamabad understood that Washington meant to cut it out of the process for settling the future of Afghanistan.
The Pakistanis determined to prove to the US and Kabul that they would never accept their exclusion from any steps involving the Taliban or affecting Afghanistan, which they regard as their primary sphere of influence.
In the case of Mullah Baradar, Pakistani and Taliban interests were drawn together by a common incentive for misleading the Americans.
Their scheme worked and so, Thursday, Feb. 25, Pakistan cynically offered to hand its Taliban captive over to Afghanistan. Baradar is not likely to last long in Kabul before his former Taliban brothers-in-arms come to finish him off. But because his usefulness to the combined Iranian-Taliban charade was clearly exhausted, he was thrown to the wolves.
Islamabad's show of cooperation with Washington goes on. Wednesday, Feb. 24, Pakistani intelligence officials told American reporters they had captured seven members of the Taliban's 15-member leadership council and so dealt the insurgent movement a cruel blow. The detainees were picked up in Quetta, capital of Pakistani Baluchistan.
That piece of information was the giveaway: Mullah Omar and all the leading council members relocated in Karachi six months ago, leaving behind former leading lights who like Baradar had outlived their usefulness – except as pawns in Pakistan's game with the US.
In the battlefield around the Helmand town of Marjah, the combined US- British-Afghan Operation Moshtarak encountered fierce resistance which confounded their plan to stroll through the town past a fleeing, broken adversary.
Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, could only comment wryly Monday, Feb. 22, that the Afghan conflict was a "dirty war" and progress had been "slower than anticipated."