Former UN envoy criticizes Taliban arrests

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JEB SHARP: I'm Jeb Sharp, this is The World. There was a surprising statement today from the former top United Nations official in Afghanistan. Kai Eide criticized Pakistan for arresting top Taliban commanders recently. The arrests were hailed by the United States as an example of the hard line Washington wants Pakistan to take against the Taliban. But Eide said those arrests abruptly halted secret U.N. talks with the Taliban. The talks were aimed at a political agreement with the Taliban to stop the war in Afghanistan. The World's Jason Margolis has more.

JASON MARGOLIS: Kai Eide had already acknowledged that as the U.N.'s top man in Afghanistan he had met with Taliban leaders. The Taliban, by the way, deny that. But now, Eide says the reason the Pakistanis arrested top Taliban commanders last month was to stop his discussions.

KAI EIDE: I don't believe that these people were arrested by coincidence. They must have known who they were, what kind of role they were playing and you see the result today.

MARGOLIS: The result, he says, is that the Taliban cut off negotiations. Pakistan is denying that this was the goal of last month's arrests. Pakistan's ambassador to London, Wajikd Shamsul Hasan said Eide has it wrong.

WAJIKD SHAMSUL HASAN: Pakistan arrested those people who were involved in terrorism, creating trouble within Pakistan and also across Pakistan into Afghanistan. And we believe that we should not allow Pakistan territory from any outsider to carry out illegal activities.

MARGOLIS: But why last month? It's widely believed that Pakistan has long had the capability to make such arrests. It has known about the location of many Afghan Taliban leaders.

TERESITA SCHAFFER: I think Pakistan wants to make sure that it is in the driver's seat.

MARGOLIS: That's Teresita Schaffer, Director of the South Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. She says this is not just a story about one man speaking out.

SCHAFFER: I don't think Eide is the story here. I think the story is the negotiations in Afghanistan. Eide was shining light on an aspect of that that hasn't seen a whole lot of light, which I think is arguably significant.

MARGOLIS: Schaffer says Pakistan wants to control any potential negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, to dictate how and if those talks occur. That question, whether to negotiate with the Taliban, is also being debated right now in Washington. The person allegedly doing the negotiating with the Taliban was its number two in command, Mullah Baradar. Whether the Pakistanis were right to arrest him last month is a tough question, says Alex Thier, the Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the United States Institute for Peace.

ALEX THIER: It's very difficult to say because the status of peace talks at this point are so uncertain, about whether it would've been better to leave Baradar alone and let him continue to negotiate, or whether it makes more sense to have these arrests.

MARGOLIS: Thier argues that that the arrests were important in that they showed the Taliban they don't have a guaranteed safe haven in Pakistan.

THIER: Because no matter how successful we are in Afghanistan, the operation in Marja, in Helmand is a great example of this, we can succeed there, we can secure the town, but if the Taliban are able to simply melt back into the hills, if they are able to go back into Pakistan and wait us out, then the insurgency won't be defeated.

MARGOLIS: Thier also adds that the arrest of Mullah Baradar wasn't a Pakistani decision alone. It appears to have been a joint operation between the CIA and Pakistani intelligence. The Pakistanis have been under enormous pressure from the United States to act against the Taliban in Pakistan. And some argue that the arrest of Baradar was the right decision because the Taliban's top leaders can't be negotiated with anyway. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said she's highly skeptical that Taliban leaders would be willing to renounce violence. For The World, I'm Jason Margolis.