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U.S. Envoy In Pakistan After Baradar Capture

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -- The White House's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan held talks with government leaders in Islamabad today, days after the capture of the Afghan Taliban's No. 2 in Pakistan.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was picked up in the southern city of Karachi this month in a raid by Pakistani and U.S. agents, the most senior Taliban commander ever arrested in Pakistan.

U.S. special representative Richard Holbrooke, on his second visit to Pakistan this year, met Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani for talks that included security issues, Gilani's office said.

The previous day in Kabul, Holbrooke called the arrest of Baradar "a significant development."

"We commend the Pakistanis for their role in this and it is part of a deepening cooperation between us," he said.

Holbrooke was due to meet other Pakistani leaders and talk to reporters later in the day.

Baradar's capture is being lauded as a major blow to the Afghan Taliban.

But it is unclear why he was captured now after years of Pakistan turning a blind eye to Taliban activity, and what it might mean for U.S.-Pakistan relations and the war in Afghanistan.

American, British, and Afghan troops are engaged in the biggest military operation of the Afghan war, with the aim to secure Marjah district in Helmand province, the last major Taliban-held city and a center for opium production.

The goal is to shatter the militants' hold on the region and win the trust of the population.

With the apparent initial success of the assault on the city and Baradar's capture, U.S. officials said in Washington that the Afghan war may have reached a turning point.

Efforts On Peace Talks

Baradar's arrest followed months of quiet prodding by American officials who saw Islamabad's inaction as a threat to their strategy in Afghanistan.

But it is too soon to tell whether Pakistan's help against Baradar would extend to other top militants on the U.S. hit list.

The previous arrest of a senior Taliban leader in Pakistan, in 2007, did not lead to a crackdown on Pakistani sanctuaries.

Washington says many Taliban leaders, including Mullah Mohammad Omar, are based in Pakistan.

The U.S.-led offensive in Afghanistan comes as efforts are also underway to bring the Taliban into peace talks.

While Pakistan has far less leverage over the Taliban than it had when it nurtured them in the 1990s, it could still make life hard for them if they refused to talk.

On February 17, Holbrooke said that in order for the United States to participate in talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, the militants would have to sever ties with Al-Qaeda.