In what is seen as a huge blow to the biggest insurgent network in Afghanistan, Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was reportedly captured in a joint U.S. and Pakistani intelligence raid in the southern Pakistani seaport of Karachi earlier this month.
"The New York Times" reported the story on February 15, after having received confirmation from U.S. officials. The daily reported that he is currently being interrogated by Pakistani and U.S. intelligence officials.
The Taliban had a mixed reaction to his capture. A Taliban spokesman denied his capture, saying Baradar was still in Afghanistan actively organizing the group's military and political activities. But at least one senior field commander has confirmed his capture to the media.
Baradar Akhund, as he is known among the Taliban, would be the most influential Taliban figure detained to date, and his capture a prize example of Islamabad's willingness to go after Taliban militants on its soil.
As part of his role as military commander, Baradar heads the Quetta Shura, a Taliban leadership council that attracts the loyalty of a vast majority of field commanders and fighters across Afghanistan. He is believed to have a dominant role in the political, military, economic, and ideological aspects of the hard line movement.
His influence is believed to be particularly strong in southern Afghanistan, where Afghan and NATO troops are currently conducting the largest anti-Taliban military operation since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001. 'Big Blow' To Taliban
Maulvi Arsala Rahmani, an Afghan lawmaker who served in the Taliban cabinet in Kabul, says that if the reports about his capture are true, it would be a "big blow" to the Taliban.
A man reads an Urdu-language newspaper reporting the capture of a top Taliban commander in Karachi.
"He was in a leadership position and has spent a lot of time in [organizing the movement]. He was experienced and was extremely familiar with the activities in Afghanistan," Rahmani says. But he adds that Baradar's capture "doesn't mean that the Taliban movement is finished or that the war and fighting has ended because many important Taliban leaders are already in prison."
Baradar, 42, was a key military figure in the Taliban regime in the 1990s and was instrumental in reorganizing the remnants of the Taliban regime under the leadership of leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. Afghan officials have claimed that the movement took refuge in the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan, whose capital Quetta served as safe haven for its leaders.
Analysts see his arrest as a key sign of Islamabad's willingness to go after major Afghan Taliban networks active on its soil. They suggest that Pakistani cooperation against the Afghan Taliban could enable Kabul and Washington to talk to them from a position of strength.
Kabul-based Afghan analyst Wahid Mujda tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that Baradar was arrested after he recently refused to negotiate with the UN's special Afghan envoy, Kai Eide, in Dubai.
Mujda says Baradar was basically responsible for guiding the Taliban's strategic course, and was the "key connection among Taliban networks, as he secured their contacts. Mullah Omar does not have enough freedom of movement because of security fears, so it was Mullah Baradar who was organizing Taliban activities and structure. Now if Mullah Baradar is captured it means that the Taliban have lost one of their critical leadership figures."
But Rahmani, who recalls Baradar from his time in the Taliban cabinet, describes him as "soft" figure compared to Mullah Omar and other key leaders.
"The Taliban are fighting a guerrilla war and they can replace Mullah Baradar. It is possible that his replacement will be worse, because Mullah Baradar was experienced and could understand things," Rahmani says. "Now you will have to deal with people that are impossible to understand."