KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghanistan on Tuesday welcomed the purported capture of five senior Taliban leaders in neighboring Pakistan but said a claim that one of them was a deputy to Taliban chief Mullah Mohammed Omar (search) was not true.
Two Pakistani intelligence officials told The Associated Press on Monday that one of the men, Maulvi Abdul Qadeer (search), formerly chairman of the Taliban Special Council, was a deputy to Omar.
But Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammed Saher Azimi (search) said that was "not correct."
"In the leadership of the Taliban we have no one named Qadeer," he told reporters in Kabul.
A former top Taliban official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he no longer wants to be associated with the group, also said Qadeer was not among the top Taliban leaders and was never an adviser to Omar.
Both Pakistani officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to reporters. Pakistani authorities Tuesday declined to confirm that the five had been detained.
The Pakistani officials identified another one of the five as Abdul Kabir, a former governor in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province, but they declined to name the three others.
Azimi said the arrests, if confirmed, were positive steps ahead of crucial legislative elections in Afghanistan in September.
"If true, such a step is very important for security in the region, especially before the election," Azimi said. "Such an action by Pakistan has had a positive effect."
The two Pakistani officials said the arrests were made Monday when security agents raided several homes in the country's northwest.
One of officials on Tuesday, again speaking on condition of anonymity, repeated his claim that Qadeer is a deputy to Omar.
"He was a big catch," he said.
The official said the five have been brought to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, for questioning.
Pakistan, a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terror, says it has arrested more than 700 Taliban and Al Qaeda members, including high level operatives, since the hard-line Taliban was ousted from power in Afghanistan in 2001 for sheltering Usama bin Laden.
Bin Laden and Omar have so far eluded capture, but U.S. and Afghan officials believe they are hiding out in Pakistan's rugged tribal belt on the border with Afghanistan.
Pakistan has deployed more than 70,000 troops to this region to flush out remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
The purported arrests came hours after Pakistan's government announced that Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz will travel to Afghanistan July 24 to discuss how the two countries could improve economic relations and better coordinate in the fight against terrorism.
Afghan officials have repeatedly accused Pakistan of not doing enough to fight militants on its territory and say a massive spike in rebel violence in Afghanistan recently is largely attributable to insurgents based across the border.