Ron Moreau is South East Asia correspondent for Newsweek magazine. He profiled Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar last summer and managed to communicate with him through emails. Katy Clark talks with Moreau, who is in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
KATY CLARK: Ron Moreau is South East Asia correspondent for Newsweek magazine. He profiled Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar last summer and managed to communicate with him through emails. Ron Moreau is in Islamabad and joins us now. What was the picture you managed to build up of this man?
RON MOREAU: Well I think the important thing to say about Mullah Baradar is his close relationship with Mullah Omar who is the leader of the Afghan Taliban. They were Madrasas students when they were teenagers together, so they studied the Islamic religion in a southern Afghanistan Madrasa. Then they went to war against the Soviets together. They fought together and Baradar became a member of Mullah Omar's unit. They eventually went off to found their own Mosques in the same area of southern Afghanistan. And then when Mullah Omar started his move against the local warlords in 1994, which ended up with the Taliban winning power in Afghanistan, Mullah Baradar was his right-hand man on the battlefield. So they're very close and he's been a very important figure, both militarily and politically for Mullah Omar.
CLARK: And since Mullah Omar seems to have dropped out of sight, in a sense, and Baradar has been somewhat of a de facto leader, hasn't he? Can you give us an example of how he has been running the Taliban?
MOREAU: Well yes, no he is definitely the de facto leader. He has been in charge of formulating their military strategy, their political strategy and over the last two years its Baradar who's stamp has been on all of the military gains that the Taliban have made throughout Afghanistan. And he's also somewhat of an avuncular figure. He's turned out to be not only a military leader, but also someone who could bring tribes together, get people to join the Taliban and support the Taliban. He comes from an important tribe, the same tribe as Hamad Karsai, the Afghan President. So he's been both a military and a political leader.
CLARK: We had heard last year about this new Taliban Code of Conduct, sort of like a manual of operations for them. Was that Baradar's handiwork?
MOREAU: Well he was involved in it. Everything has ultimately Mullah Omar's stamp on it, but Mullah Baradar is basically the operative head. That was one of the things that he's been trying to do over the last two years, not very successfully, is trying to cut down the number of civilian casualties which are still very high as a result of Taliban booby traps and IEDs. But he's also tried to get the commanders, the actual military commanders on the ground to become more transparent and to be more disciplined in terms of their operating with the people. So he's sacked about 200 commanders and transferred some like 12 Taliban shadow governors, so he's trying to get a little bit of a handle on the most unruly elements in the Taliban.
CLARK: Your profile seems to portray him as a very calm, a very pragmatic man. Is that the case?
MOREAU: Oh yeah. That's what his Taliban associates say. They say he's much more patient, he's much less emotive and not so much of a knee-jerk as Mullah Omar was. He's more reasonable and like as I said, he acts more like a tribal chief than a dictator.
CLARK: What is the impact his arrest is likely to have on the Taliban?
MOREAU: Well it's certainly a setback because he's very, very important. But as the Taliban have been telling myself and my Afghan reporter over the last two days, that they've gone through this before. In 2007 they lost two of their senior most commanders. One was killed. One was captured by the Taliban and they still gained momentum after that. And there's probably someone waiting in the wings right now. A Taliban commander named Abdul Kayum Azaki who's been groomed by Baradar so he will probably take over. But I'm sure it's going to be a setback and the Taliban are under an awful lot of pressure right now, militarily, with this new American offensive.
CLARK: Knowing what you know about Baradar, how likely do you think it is that he'll be giving up any intelligence to his interrogators?
MOREAU: I doubt whether he, he may know in fact where Mullah Omar is hiding, but I doubt whether he'd give that up. I'm sure he'd take a cyanide pill before he does that. So I'm not really sure how much actual actionable intelligence they'll get from Baradar. Of course, the Pakistanis are handling him so I suppose there could be torture involved, so it's hard to know. But I doubt whether he will be talking very much.
CLARK: Ron Moreau is Newsweek's South East Asia correspondent. Good to speak with you, thank you.
MOREAU: Okay, my pleasure.
Do you enjoy our audio? Please help support it with a donation.