KABUL — Two Taliban shadow governors from northern Afghanistan have been arrested by Pakistani authorities, an Afghan official told The Associated Press today.
The reported arrests occurred about the same time as the capture of the Afghan Taliban’s No. 2 figure, who was apprehended in the Pakistani city of Karachi. The loss of several key figures from the militant leadership is likely to be a severe setback to the Taliban — at least in the short term — as they come under military pressure from U.S.-led forces in the south.
Mohammmad Omar, the official governor of Kunduz province, said Mullah Abdul Salam, the Taliban governor of Kunduz and Mullah Mohammad, his counterpart in Baghlan, were arrested about 10 to 12 days ago in Pakistan.
Both were key figures in the Taliban’s expansion to northern Afghanistan, where their forces threatened NATO supply lines coming south from Central Asia and raised alarm that the militants were extending their influence nationwide.
Two Pakistani intelligence officials said Salam was arrested in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad. One of the officials said Salam’s arrest was the result of information gleaned from Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, second in command after Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
Both Pakistani officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Mullah Baradar was believed to have been apprehended last week, although neither U.S. nor Pakistani authorities have released the exact date.
The Taliban has long operated its own shadow government in the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan, but in recent years, it has bolstered its influence in the north. As of late last year, the Taliban had shadow governments in 33 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, according to a NATO intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official provincial governor of Kunduz said the shadow governor was believed to be the Taliban’s key contact in northern Afghanistan, and at one time controlled an estimated 1,200 insurgent fighters.
“He was a tyrant. He was a cruel person,” the governor said. “We are very happy. He strongly rejected the peace process.”
Gen. Kabir Andarabi, chief of police in Baghlan province, said the arrest of the Taliban’s shadow governor in his province would positively improve security in the province. Andarabi said the shadow governor is thought to have left the area after 21 Taliban fighters were killed in a battle against Afghan and NATO forces about three weeks ago.