Pakistani authorities are widely reported to have captured a top Taleban commander, along with several insurgents from the province of Baluchistan along the Afghan border. VOA correspondent Benjamin Sand reports from Islamabad.
Pakistani intelligence officials are reported to have identified the detained insurgent leader as Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, formerly Taleban defense minister and a top deputy to the Taleban leader, Mullah Omar.
While no official here is speaking on the record, reports in Pakistan and abroad quote unnamed officials as saying the arrest took place Monday afternoon in the southwestern city of Quetta, a known hideout for Taleban insurgents.
Pakistani intelligence officials say Akhund is a member of the Taleban's ten-member "leadership council", which helps direct the insurgents' fight to regain control of Afghanistan. He is the first major Taleban leader captured since U.S. forces ousted the hard-line Islamist group in 2001, after it refused to hand over terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
His arrest came at the same time as a visit to Islamabad by Vice President Dick Cheney, who reportedly pressured Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to crack down on Afghan insurgents based in Pakistan.
Pakistani officials, however, insist Monday's operation was set in motion well before the vice president's visit.
Security analyst Talat Masood says President Musharraf is already convinced his forces are doing everything they can to support the U.S.-led war on terror. "As far as the present government is concerned, they think Pakistan is already making such sacrifices, doing so much, and yet it is constantly blamed and accused and pushed around," he says, "and there are limits to what it can do, and so [the Pakistani government] thinks it is a very unfair accusation that Pakistan should do more."
But security experts here say the pressure on Pakistan to act is only likely to grow in the coming weeks.
The Taleban is expected to mount a major new spring offensive in Afghanistan in the next few weeks.
Senior U.S. defense officials said Thursday that the insurgents have established a series of safe havens inside Pakistan, which are playing a key role in their recent resurgence.
Last year was Afghanistan's deadliest in more than five years, and Taleban sources have vowed that 2007 will be even bloodier.
There has also been a sharp rise in militant activity in Pakistan itself in the past month, including a series of suicide attacks in major cities across the country. Friday, a roadside bomb in central Pakistan killed three people and seriously wounded at least five others, including a top anti-terrorism judge.