Counter-Terrorism: Taliban Leadership Embarrassed


March 5, 2007: Sometimes the personal touch does work. U.S. vice president Cheney paid a visit to Pakistan last week, and met with Pakistani president Musharraf, to complain about Pakistani reluctance to crack down on Taliban activity along the Afghan border. Shortly after Cheney flew off to Afghanistan, Pakistani police made some raids in southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan), where they arrested the number three guy in the Taliban chain of command, Mullah Obaidullah Akhund. This was just the kind of action Cheney wanted, because there were frequent sightings of Taliban big shots in places like Quetta. But Musharraf had his reasons as well. Recently, the Taliban had declared war on the Pakistani government, in retaliation for attacks on some recent bombings of Taliban religious schools. As a result, the Taliban, and their al Qaeda allies, have been setting off bombs throughout Pakistan.

The Taliban reaction to Akhunds arrest was interesting. Some Taliban denied it, so secure were they in their sense of security in places like Quetta. Apparently, the Akhund take down was in the works for some time. Akhund had gotten sloppy, and made himself too tempting a target. As the same time, a Taliban suicide bomber, trying to get into the air base where Cheney had just landed, set off his bomb at the main gate, killing twenty people (mostly Afghans). The Taliban claimed it was an attempt to get Cheney. That might just be a bold attempt to puff themselves up, because that implies there was an information leak. Normally, senior officials like Cheney travel to these parts of the world under heavy secrecy. American intelligence officials will be scrambling to see if they are dealing with a leak, or just opportunistic Taliban publicists.

All this goes to show that the terrorism business is all about bluff, bravado, deception and trying to appear more powerful than you actually are. In this context, the arrest of Akhund is a major blow. The Taliban propaganda of late has been stressing the preparations for the 2007 Spring Offensive. Akhund is one of the senior Taliban military commanders (he was the Taliban Defense Minister until late 2001), and if the Taliban can't protect him, well, it doesn't look good. And in situations like this, appearances are important.


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