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Taliban’s ex-finance minister arrested in Pakistan

By Munir Ahmed
Associated Press / March 5, 2010

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - The country’s intelligent agents have arrested a senior Afghan Taliban commander, officials said yesterday, the latest move in a crackdown against the insurgent network in Pakistan.

Agha Jan Mohtasim, a former finance minister for the Taliban before the US-led invasion in 2001, was detained in the southern city of Karachi, two intelligence officials said. They did not say when the arrest was made and spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give their names to the media.

Pakistan and Afghan officials have said at least four other Afghan Taliban leaders have been arrested in Pakistan in recent weeks.

The arrests have been hailed by US officials and many analysts as a major blow to the Taliban in Afghanistan, though they caution that the group has rebounded from the death or detention of previous leaders.

Opinion is divided on whether the crackdown signals that the country’s intelligence forces are adopting a harder line against the militants.

The United States has long demanded that Pakistan take action against the group, which critics say have long enjoyed relative sanctuary in Pakistan.

Some analysts say the arrests may be aimed at removing moderates within the Taliban who were considering taking part in possible reconciliation talks with the Afghan government.

Earlier, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said he had no information on the arrest of Mohtasim. Qari Yousef Ahmadi, Afghan Taliban spokesman, denied he had been arrested.

There had been speculation that Mohtasim was in the running to replace Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was reportedly arrested in a joint raid with American intelligence officials.

Mohtasim was considered close to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. He was not known to be among the most hard-line group within the Taliban.

Earlier yesterday, dozens of militants attacked a security checkpoint in the northwest close to the Afghan border, sparking a gun battle that left 30 insurgents and one soldier dead, officials said.

The battle occurred in the Chamarkand area of the Mohmand tribal region, government and military officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.