Washington, Feb 16 (IANS) Pakistani and American intelligence forces have in a secret joint operation captured Afghanistan's top Taliban military commander in Karachi, the New York Times reported Tuesday citing American government officials.
The commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is an Afghan described by American officials as the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the American-led war in Afghanistan started more than eight years ago, the influential US daily said.
He ranks second in influence only to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban's founder and a close associate of Osama bin Laden before the Sep 11 attacks.
Mullah Baradar has been in Pakistani custody for several days, with American and Pakistani intelligence officials both taking part in interrogations, the Times said citing unnamed officials.
Baradar's capture had provided a window into the Taliban and could lead to other senior people, officials cited by the Times said. Most immediately, they hope he will provide the whereabouts of Mullah Omar, the one-eyed cleric who is the group's spiritual leader.
Disclosure of Mullah Baradar's capture came as American and Afghan forces were in the midst of a major offensive in southern Afghanistan.
His capture could cripple the Taliban's military operations, at least in the short term, Bruce O. Riedel, a former CIA officer who last spring led the Obama administration's Afghanistan and Pakistan policy review, was quoted as saying.
Details of the raid remain murky, but officials cited by the Times said that it had been carried out by Pakistan's military spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, and that CIA operatives had accompanied the Pakistanis.
The Times said American intelligence officials believe that elements within Pakistan's security services have covertly supported the Taliban with money and logistical help - largely out of a desire to retain some ally inside Afghanistan for the inevitable day when the Americans leave.
The ability of the Taliban's top leaders to operate relatively freely inside Pakistan has for years been a source of friction between the ISI and the CIA, it said.
Americans have complained that they have given ISI operatives the precise locations of Taliban leaders, but that the Pakistanis usually refuse to act.
In recent weeks, American officials have said they have seen indications that the Pakistani military and spy services may finally have begun to distance themselves from the Taliban, the Times noted.