ISLAMABAD – A top Taliban leader picked up in Pakistan as part of a recent crackdown on insurgents will be handed over to Afghanistan, an Afghan government official said Wednesday. Islamabad said, however, that it had received no formal request to turn him over and that he could be tried first in Pakistan.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is one of at least three Afghan Taliban commanders who have been captured in recent weeks in Pakistan, where militants have also sustained blows from suspected U.S. missile strikes, including four killed Wednesday in an Al Qaeda and Taliban stronghold in northwest Pakistan, intelligence officials said.
Pakistan has agreed to transfer Baradar to Afghan custody, according to Zemeri Bashary, a spokesman for Afghan Interior Minister Hanif Atmar, who was in Islamabad meeting with FBI and Pakistani officials. "Pakistan has agreed to hand Mullah Baradar over, but there is going to be consultations with judicial authorities," he said.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Islamabad was expecting a formal request from the Afghan government to hand over Baradar, but the ministry issued a statement saying that no transfer was imminent.
"Pakistan will make legal scrutiny and also investigate the criminal acts done by Mullah Baradar, including his illegal entry into Pakistan," the statement said. "If Mullah Baradar has committed any crime inside Pakistan, he will be first tried in Pakistan."
Baradar was captured in a joint Pakistani-U.S. operation in the southern city of Karachi early this month, and has given some useful information to Pakistani interrogators, Pakistani officials have said. It is unclear if American officials have had direct access to Baradar.
Malik said last week that Pakistan would not hand the Afghan suspects to U.S. authorities but would return them to their countries of origin if there was no proof they had committed crimes in Pakistan. The comment reflected the government's sensitivity to widespread anger among many Pakistanis who think Islamabad too often does Washington's bidding.
The arrests and missile strikes against militants are occurring amid signs of deeper cooperation between Islamabad and Washington — amid long-standing suspicions that Pakistani security officials retain links with the militant movement.
On Wednesday, three suspected U.S. missiles hit a compound and a vehicle in Dargah Mandi area of North Waziristan tribal region, said intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media on the record. The identities of the dead were not immediately clear, they said.
The area hit was a stronghold of the Haqqani network, an Afghan Taliban faction that is considered a major threat to U.S. troops across the border in Afghanistan. A missile strike in the same region last week killed Mohammad Haqqani, a son of the network's aging leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani, officials said.
In Islamabad, FBI Director Robert Mueller met Pakistani and Afghan officials for talks on counterterrorism cooperation. Mueller also met separately with top officials at Pakistan's intelligence agencies, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement. The statement offered few details, and did not mention if Baradar was discussed at the talks.
U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the war in Afghanistan, said the arrests of the Afghan Taliban suspects were the result of intelligence breakthroughs, and dismissed the idea that Pakistan acted against Baradar because he may have been involved in reconciliation talks with the Afghan government and it wanted to get a seat at the table by arresting him.
"I wouldn't share your characterizations that, in a sense, [the Pakistanis] have always had this intelligence," Petraeus told reporters late Tuesday. "What has happened is that there has been some important breakthroughs."
Over the past 18 months, Pakistan has undertaken several army offensives in the northwest against Islamist militants. Those operations have mostly targeted militants attacking the Pakistani state, not militants fighting U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Petraeus said Pakistan still made distinctions between such groups, but that there appears to be an "evolution" in that it now sees them as increasingly entwined.
Also Wednesday, the bodies of two men alleged by militants to be U.S. spies were discovered in Mir Ali, a town in North Waziristan.
Each had a note attached accusing the victim of spying for the Americans and warning other informants they faced the same fate, area resident Akram Ullah said. Another witness, Sana Ullah, said one man was a local tribal elder and the other was Afghan.