A senior Pakistani Taliban commander has been captured in south-eastern Afghanistan in what was hailed as a major sign of much improved relations between the two neighbouring countries.
Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, described as a top-ranking Pakistani member of the Taliban, was captured on Monday, along with three of his bodyguards and a small cache of weapons, in Mohmand Dara district, which shares a border with Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region.
The ambush was carried out by Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), and the Afghan police, an official in Nangarhar said.
“Kabul security forces came into the district and arrested the commander … it was an ambush. They advanced on a vehicle and he was with four other men,” Ahmadzia Abdulzai, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar province, said.
Haji Sanagul, a tribal elder and former chairman of the office for peace and reconciliation in Nangarhar’s capital Jalalabad, confirmed that Maulvi Faqir Mohammad was in the group of men arrested.
Sanagul said Maulvi Faqir had moved from Pakistan to the northern Afghan province of Kunar around 18 months ago. Sensing his life was in danger, he then moved with his family to Pakistan’s Waziristan province. He had recently re-settled in Peshawar, less than 100km (60 miles) from Mohmand Dara.
“He comes and goes between Peshawar and Nangarhar. It is likely he was arrested on one of his journeys,” Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahed said, without confirming knowledge of the arrest.
The NDS in Kabul refused to comment or provide any details on the incident, confirming only that an arrest was made in Nangarhar.
An Afghan intelligence official, who asked not to be named, said the matter was highly sensitive.
In Pakistan the arrest was interpreted as a positive sign that Islamabad and Kabul were capable of joining forces against the Taliban.
Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, said the arrest was a major step.
“Even though Mullah Faqir had encouraged the Pakistani Taliban to direct attacks inside Afghanistan, he was a former senior high-ranking member intimately involved in the Taliban campaign in Swat,” he said. “For that alone they will undoubtedly be pleased with this.”
In 2009 Pakistan was forced to mount a major campaign to evict the Taliban from Swat, a region a few hours’ drive from the capital that had become a haven for the Pakistani Taliban.
The once dire relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan has warmed considerably in the last six months, analysts and diplomats in Islamabad say.
Military and intelligence officials from both sides have increased co-operation from virtually nothing in the recent past and now meet regularly to discuss common problems.
In the past both Afghanistan and Pakistan have accused each other of harbouring cross-border insurgents.
Pakistan is particularly anxious for Afghanistan to pursue Mullah Fazlullah, an insurgent known as “Mullah Radio” who turned Swat into a private fiefdom.
He is currently believed to be hiding in the Afghan border provinces of Kunar and Nuristan.
“If the Afghans could deliver him, that would be a huge breakthrough,” Rana said.