The capture of the Taliban’s top military commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is a success in the broader war on terror; however, only time will tell whether it signals Pakistan is convinced that its future security no longer lies in its support for Islamist proxies.
It is important to recognize that this apprehension was not a result of blunt military force, but a direct result of diligent intelligence gathering by the military and CIA, in close cooperation with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. This fact serves to further question our objectives in Afghanistan, where blunt military force is the main solution. Indeed, over 100,000 U.S. and coalition troops are deployed, large amounts of resources are expended, and lives are continually lost for what President Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, noted in October, “is less than 100 [al-Qaeda] operating in [Afghanistan].”
Another important point is that for years the United States and Pakistan were not on the same page at the strategic level. Pakistan’s cooperation in this recent operation could signal a shift in its strategic thinking; however, U.S. policymakers must recognize that along with an increased push toward negotiating with ground insurgents, they must also acknowledge how Pakistan’s strategic orientation and its regional tensions with India impact Afghanistan. Only by developing a comprehensive South Asia strategy and moderating the strategic competition between India and Pakistan will there be hope for anything more than temporary peace in Afghanistan. In this respect, while Mullah Baradar’s capture is great news, it might do little to compel regional belligerents to alter their policies as it impacts Afghanistan—the underlying source of the Afghan mission’s vulnerability.
In short, the broader policy prescription of remaining in Afghanistan without addressing Pakistan’s use of extremist proxies vastly oversimplifies the conditions that exist between Pakistan and India and the ability of present solutions to influence their policies. Long-term stability will only come about when all countries in the region are on the same page, but judging from history, that prospect looks unlikely.