Pakistan: Another senior Afghan Taliban in custody |

Pakistan: Another senior Afghan Taliban in custody

Associated Press Writer

ISLAMABAD (AP) – Pakistani intelligence agents have arrested a senior Afghan Taliban commander, the latest move in a crackdown on the insurgent network in Pakistan.

Agha Jan Mohtasim, a former finance minister for the Taliban before the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, was detained in the southern city of Karachi, two intelligence officials said Thursday. One of the officials said two other Taliban associates were arrested along with Mohtasim, though he would not identify them.

The agents did not say when the arrests were made, and spoke on 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, including the No. 2 leader of the movement, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

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

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

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

Some experts 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. Afghan Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi denied he had been arrested.

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

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

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

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

Chamarkand borders the Bajur tribal region, where the army said Tuesday it had finally defeated Taliban and al-Qaida militants after more than a year and a half of fighting.

Washington has praised Pakistan for its recent military operations but wants the government to do even more to target militants using its territory to stage attacks against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.