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Afghanistan: Pakistan Hails Capture Of Taliban Spokesman As Breakthrough

Pakistani troops on the Afghan border (file photo) Pakistani interrogators on 5 October were questioning the chief spokesman for the Taliban militia, a day after capturing him in the city of Quetta. The interrogators want to learn more about the contacts and other sources of information for Abdul Latif Hakimi, who spoke often to international news organizations during the past year about Taliban attacks against U.S. and Afghan government troops.

Prague, 5 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The arrest of a man who has been a chief spokesman for Taliban militants during much of the past year came yesterday when Pakistani security forces raided a building in Pakistan's southwestern city of Quetta.

Pakistani officials tell RFE/RL that other suspected members of the Taliban were arrested together with Hakimi. But Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao says he cannot provide more information about those arrests because of security concerns related to ongoing operations.

"At this time I can say that Abdul Latif Hakimi, the chief spokesman of the Taliban, has been arrested," Sherpao said.

Pakistan's Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told RFE/RL that Hakimi's arrest will lead to a windfall of information about the Taliban and pave the way for the arrests of other prominent militants in the weeks ahead.

"Our armed forces and security agencies arrested him and it's a big catch. We were looking [for] him for a long time. His arrest will give good information and good clues. And we believe that his arrest will give certain important
information because he was dealing with the media, and he was their spokesman. He had close links with the Taliban leaders. It's a big success of our security forces and the armed forces," Ahmed said.

Ahmed would not comment on whether computers, documents, or other papers related to Taliban operations had been seized in yesterday's raid.

Hakimi's ties to the Taliban go back to the time when Mullah Mohammad Omar's Taliban regime controlled Afghanistan.

Justice Head

In early 1999, the Taliban government radio station Sharia Zhagh -- or Voice of Sharia -- described Hakimi as the head of the justice department in Afghanistan's western province of Herat.

Later in 1999 and again in 2000, Taliban-run media referred to Hakimi as the head of the information and culture department in Herat.

Hakimi is believed to have fled to Pakistan's southwestern province of Balochistan after U.S. special forces helped Afghanistan's anti-Taliban Northern Alliance topple Mullah Omar's regime in late 2001.

Since the summer of 2003, there have been several self-proclaimed spokesmen for the Taliban.

One is a man named Mohammad Mokhtar Mojahed who announced the formation of a 10-member "Taliban leadership council" in June of that year.

A few months after Mojahed's announcement, a man named Hamed Agha contacted news organizations to announce the establishment of yet another Taliban leadership council.

Agha said the ousted leader of Afghanistan's Taliban regime -- Mullah Mohammad Omar -- was the chairman. Agha also claimed that he had been appointed as the official Taliban spokesman.

Since then, several others also have claimed to speak on behalf of the Taliban. Often, their statements have been contradictory.

That list includes Hakimi, who also uses the name Mufti Latifullah Hakimi.

Other purported spokesmen have been Mullah Abdul Samad, Mohammad Amin, Ustad Mohammad Yasir, and Saif al-Adl.

But in February 2004, a purported Taliban statement was faxed to several international news organizations to refute statements made by al-Adl. Although the fax named Agha as the movement's only authorized spokesman, Hakimi emerged increasingly during 2004 as the person speaking for the Taliban.

Unlike Agha, who usually faxed his statements to news organizations, Hakimi gave telephone interviews. He began with Pakistani-based news organizations before eventually providing his satellite telephone number to other media companies --including western and Kabul-based media.

By the end of 2004, Hakimi was telling journalists that Mohammad Yasir had replaced Agha as the head of the "Taliban cultural council."

Early this year, a Karachi-based jihadist newspaper called "Islam" reported that Yasir had been appointed as the chief spokesman for the Taliban and that Hakimi was his assistant.

Yasir made appearances on Arabic television while Hakimi became the main voice of the Taliban since the second half of 2004.

Pakistan's information minister noted to RFE/RL that in addition to Hakimi's arrest, Hamed Agha and Mohammad Yasir also have both been detained recently.

(Contributors to this story include RFE/RL Afghan analyst Amin Tarzi in Washington, RFE/RL correspondent Najib Aamer in Pakistan, and Afghan Service broadcaster Mustafa Sediqi in Prague.)

See also:

Neo-Taliban Free To Communicate With Media