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Captured Taliban Commander Seen As Moderate

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Ron Moreau of Newsweek has reported extensively on Mullah Baradar. In fact, he was an email contact with the Taliban commander last year. Moreau says Mullah Baradar's relationship with Taliban founder Mullah Omar dates back several decades. The two studied together and later joined the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

RON MOREAU: Mullah Omar became a unit commander in that war and Baradar served in that unit. And after the defeat of the Soviets, they went off and they formed their own mosques and madrasas. And then several years later, when Mullah Omar started his revolt against the abuses of the formerly victorious mujahideen warlords, it was Baradar that was one of the first people who joined Omar and took up arms. And within three years they were ruling most of Afghanistan and certainly were in charge in Kabul.

BLOCK: You describe a scene at the time of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 when Mullah Baradar puts Mullah Omar on the back of his motorcycle and drives him to safety.

MOREAU: Exactly, the bombs were falling all over Kandahar and Kandahar was ready to fall, and Baradar grabbed the motorcycle and got Mullah Omar to ride pylon and then took him into the mountains. And that's the last anyone's ever seen of Mullah Omar.

BLOCK: You wrote last summer that Mullah Baradar maybe more dangerous than Mullah Omar ever was. When you think about the increased lethality of attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan, would you attribute that to - specifically to Mullah Baradar?

MOREAU: Well, yeah, I think so. What he's done is he's - under his command, the Taliban has really extended its control. You know, he's made the Taliban much more savvy political movement. Who knows, maybe even his arrest had something to do with his ideas in terms of talking peace or not talking peace.

BLOCK: Well, let's talk about that. You raised the question last summer in an article whether the Afghan government or the U.S. could strike a deal with Mullah Baradar. One Taliban operative told you he's not an extremist like some commanders. If there were ever to be negotiations, Baradar would be the best man to talk to. And you asked him about that in your email exchange. What did Baradar say?

MOREAU: Well, you know, Baradar, on the record, of course, does not favor any kind of negotiations until all foreign forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan. But the fact is that Baradar has in the past tried to begin some kind of fledgling dialogue with the Kabul government. One of the things that's important is that both Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and Mullah Baradar are both from the same tribe, the Popolzai tribe. And I think that he would, perhaps in the right circumstances, would be more amenable to peace. And that may have been one of the reasons the Pakistanis picked him up along with the U.S., thinking that that would be further pressure on the Taliban to perhaps get into some kind of dialogue.

BLOCK: Do you see it playing out that way?

MOREAU: And being Pashtuns they're also motivated by the code of Pashtunwali, which means, you know, harboring and protecting guests but it also means eye-for-an- eye vengeance. And most of these Taliban fighters have lost dozens, if not, scores of friends and relatives to the war. And there's an awful lot of calls for vengeance out there. So, it's going to be very difficult to get peace talks going but inevitably there will have to be some kind of negotiated settlement or else the war will just go on forever.

BLOCK: Ron Moreau, thank you very much.

MOREAU: My pleasure.

BLOCK: Ron Moreau is South Asia bureau chief for Newsweek. He spoke with us from Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.