Top Haqqani Commander Captured in Afghanistan; "Peace Talks" Continue to Deteriorate

The Haqqani network owes its name to Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani (above), leader of the group in Afghanistan. (Getty)

Top Haqqani Commander Captured in Afghanistan; "Peace Talks" Continue to Deteriorate

Afghan and NATO forces arrest Haji Mali Khan in Paktia province as president talks of disengaging with the Taliban.

NATO-led forces have captured Haji Mali Khan, a senior commander for the Haqqani network in Afghanistan, during an operation in eastern Paktia province earlier in the week.

Khan is "the uncle of Siraj and Badruddin Haqqani ... one of the highest ranking members of the Haqqani network and a revered elder of the Haqqani clan," the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement on Saturday.

The Haqqani network, which attacked the US emabssy in Kabul earlier this month, is based on the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the US joint chiefs of staff, recently accused the group of being a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's military intelligence agency- a charge that Islamabad denies.

NATO said Khan had managed bases and operations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and moved forces across the border for attacks, as well as transferring funds and sourcing supplies.

The statement called him "the senior Haqqani commander in Afghanistan".

Khan was captured on Tuesday in Jani Khel district of Paktia province along with his deputy and bodyguard, in an operation by Afghan and foreign forces, NATO said.

He was heavily armed but "submitted ... without incident or resistance," the NATO statement said. It did not detail how the NATO forces had identified Khan.

Peace talks

Meanwhile, Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan, said that he is rethinking the peace process following three years of failed talks with the Taliban.

In a statement on Saturday, Karzai alluded to shifting his government's peace-negotiating strategy from dealing directly with the Taliban to holding talks with Pakistan.

"I do not have any other answer except to say the other side of the peace talks must be Pakistan, because I cannot find Mullah Mohammed Omar, I cannot find the Taliban Shura, a messenger came from them and killed and there is no reaction from them," said Karzai. "Who else is there to talk to except Pakistan?"

A year ago, Karzai established a peace council and appointed former-president Burhanuddin Rabbani to lead talks with the Taliban.

Rabbani was killed two weeks ago by a suicide bomber posing as a messenger from the Taliban.

'Peace with who?'

At a meeting with Afghanistan's political elite on Friday, leaders discussed the future of peace talks with the Taliban, questioned whether the insurgents were able to seek a political settlement and blamed Pakistan for fomenting instability.

The meeting included legislative chairmen, cabinet ministers, former mujahideen commanders and Karzai's two vice-presidents, a statement from the Presidential Palace said.

The assembled Afghan elite took a swipe at neighboring Pakistan, according to the statement, saying it was clear the Taliban leadership was not independent enough to make its own decisions about how it conducted the war, and suggested talks with Islamabad instead.

"During our three-year efforts for peace, the Taliban has martyred our religious ulema [leaders], tribal elders, women, children, old and young," Karzai's office quoted the assembled "mujahideen leaders, national figures and politicians" as saying.

"By killing Rabbani, they showed they are not able to take decisions. Now, the question is [should we seek] peace with who, with which people?"

Mullah Abdul Salem Zaeef, the Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan, does not believe that the strategy will work.

"Pakistan is not able to resolve their problem," he said. "How are the Pakistanis able to solve the problem of Afghanistan?"

Implicating Pakistan

Afghanistan's intelligence agency said on Saturday that it had handed Pakistan evidence that the Taliban's leadership plotted Rabbani's assasination on Pakistani soil.

The National Directorate of Security (NDS) said that the killing was was plotted in an upmarket suburb of the Pakistani city of Quetta.

The Taliban leadership council is known as the Quetta Shura, and is believed to be based in that city, although the insurgent group says it operates only from Afghanistan. Pakistan denies the existence of any Taliban shura in Quetta.

"A confession from those we detained in regard to Rabbani's assassination shows a direct involvement of the Quetta Shura," NDS spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said, adding that one of those arrested was a key player in the plot to kill Rabbani.

"[He] provided evidence and documents which we have submitted to the Pakistan Embassy. Based on mutual cooperation and diplomatic ties with Afghanistan, Pakistan is obliged to take action," he told a news conference in the Afghan capital.

He said a commission had been set up to investigate the killing, and further details would be given soon.

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