15 MARCH 2010


Was he the one who arranged for a January meeting in Dubai between outgoing U.N. Envoy Kai Eide and some Taliban representatives? Did he have the clearance of his nominal boss Mullah Omar? Why was he arrested? Is he really under arrest? Or is he bargaining for a new game of Afghan polo?!

In a very rough neighbourhood, Mullah Barader is as rough as they come. Barader is actually his title, not his real name. Impressed by his jihad against the Soviet army, Mullah Omar described him as Brother. "Barader" is the local adaptation in the land that inspired Rudyard Kipling to assert that East is East and West is West. His specialty was in handmaking booby-trapped road bombs. That was before he went on to become Taliban's regime Governor of the strategic region of Herat, where he distracted world attention by infamously destroying the face of Reverend Buddha in Bamian. After 2003, with the main Taliban leaders underground or under ground, he took charge of guerilla warfare while keeping special interest in financial matters. He followed the money while keeping the ammunition aflame. Apparently, he had his kinky kind of charisma. He carried his gun in a red handkerchief like others would carry candy; like candy, he would offer it to persuade or dissuade. He even smiled; occasionally. He would share a drink of "Dogh" -- an Asian yoghurt blend -- with comrades, particularly after a wrestling exercise. That was his way to win friends and influence people -- in addition, of course, to the red handkerchief. His claim to fame was that he persuaded the Amir of the Faithful to disguise as a veiled woman and ride in a motor bike behind him out of Kandahar as allied troops were closing in.

With increased talk about talks with "moderate" Taliban, the Mulla grapevine has it that Baradar differed -- slightly -- with his mentor on upcoming options. In a tribal land, he belongs to the Southern Popolzai, the same as President Karzai, with whom he perhaps felt a deal could be arranged. A year earlier, a meeting in Saudi Arabia reflected some progress. At the London Conference in December 2009, President Karzai openly called for widening back door channels. Kai Eide must have been close enough to Karzai to pursue an opening. Barader was it. Although he did not go to Dubai, those who went there reflected his position. But then, the secret meeting was leaked and "Brother" was arrested by "Brother" Pakistanis.

Was it to pre-empt a process? Interrupt it? Bargain further indicating who was really in charge? Or was it to safeguard the Mulla in order to produce him at the right moment? In the meanwhile, where is that red handkerchief?!