The Duck of Minerva

Mullah Baradar and Stringer Bell

22 February 2010

My first thought when I heard of the capture of Mullah Baradar, “Mullah Omar’s #2 man,” was of Stringer Bell, “Avon Barksdale’s #2 man” from “The Wire.”

“The Wire” was the ultimate show for Political Scientists. Beneath the gritty surface of a stale cops-n-robbers thematic is a brilliant show about dynamic organizations – mainly “po-lice” and criminal gangs, but also the city’s decaying educational system, the media, city hall, etc. The individual characters no matter how innovative and charming cannot transcend the organizations in which they work or “the game” in which these organizations interact.

Among the drug lords and their lieutenants, Russel “Stringer” Bell (Idris Elba) was clearly the most innovative and strategic thinker that had come around the streets of Baltimore for some time. He had a plan to make himself and his criminal organization legit. He took courses in economics at the local community college and he organized a cartel with regular meetings at a local hotel. He tried to improve the quality of his product and professionalize a group of individuals who were not particularly known for civility (although he did object to McGinty taking minutes at the meeting of criminal conspirators). All the while there was never a moment’s doubt that Stringer was a ruthless criminal who would quietly arrange to have his rivals killed.

Of course, the tale of Stringer Bell is a tragedy. Although he made some major strides towards becoming a legitimate businessman, he was tricked by corrupt politicians and betrayed by his boss. Ultimately, he was killed by Omar Little, a cunning and self-employed ronin and the Nation of Islam’s Brother Mouzone (literally Brother Judicious in Arabic). An American audience, unused to having leading characters killed off, was stunned. But to not have killed off Stringer would have defeated the purpose of the show.

Like Stringer Bell, Mullah Baradar was a master strategist who managed the daily operations of his organization. As a general commander for the Taliban’s five operational military zones, Baradar’s job was to manage the bickering of the commanders and sub-commanders within in each zone by rotating personnel; to prevent commanders from poaching fighters from other units; and to insist that the composition of fighting units bridge tribal lines.

Baradar is credited with creating a “code of conduct” manual to professionalize his fighters. The manual emphasized the importance of protecting civilians and winning their support in the struggle to retake Afghanistan. The goal was to lay the groundwork for the return of the government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, i.e. to go legit.

As in “The Wire,” the Taliban became more aware of their enemy’s surveillance tactics under Baradar’s watch. The Taliban dropped the use of their satellite phones on the battlefield and returned to more reliable methods of communication — messengers.

According to Newsweek (3 August 2009), Baradar also managed hundreds of millions of dollars in finances of the Taliban organization. Apparently, Baradar required video evidence of raids from his subordinates before providing reimbursements for their expenses.

Not unlike Stringer Bell, Baradar may have been willing to have enemies terminated. Baradar has been accused of having his rival commanders, most notably Mullah Dadullah Akhund and Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, meet their untimely demises at the hands of American and Pakistani troops. Of course, the rumors have not yet been confirmed.

Finally, Mullah Baradar was a close personal friend, comrade-in-arms, and confidante of Mullah Omar. At times, those who watch the Taliban closely even wondered whether Baradar had not supplanted his boss. Baradar apparently ran the meetings of the Taliban’s Quetta Shura while Omar remained in occlusion.

The main question is why the Pakistani government chose to turn an asset like Baradar over to the Americans at this point in time. After all, the Pakistani ISI is accused of intervening on Baradar’s behalf when he was first caught by the Northern Alliance in 2001. It may be that the Pakistani government decided that Baradar could not be used to broker a peace deal in Afghanistan (that would allow Pakistan to retain its influence there). Thus Baradar may have lost his value to his host. Or it may be that the whereabouts of Baradar were quietly leaked by someone in the Taliban organization…

Either way, Baradar is out of the picture, but “the game” will resume.

[Cross-posted from my Notebook]