|Taliban's leadership council runs Afghan war from Pakistan
Islamabad: The Quetta shura has long been the aching achilles heel of western efforts to defeat the Taliban.
While the war is fought in Afghanistan, the thinking part of the Taliban ‑ the one-eyed leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, and a council of about 14 other men ‑ is sheltering on the far side of the border, in the western Pakistani province of Balochistan.
The shura, or leadership council, has multiple functions. It directs the military campaign against western troops and it co-ordinates the political and propaganda campaign that has so successfully undermined the rule of President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan.
The Afghan war is organised and run out of Balochistan, according to Seth Jones, a senior civilian adviser to the US special forces commander in Afghanistan.
"Virtually all significant meetings of the Taliban take place in that province, and many of the group's senior leaders and military commanders are based there," he wrote in a newspaper article last month.
Quetta shura is a label of convenience for meetings that take place in the Baloch capital ‑ a dusty, suspicious city that hums with intrigue ‑ and also in surrounding villages and Afghan refugee camps.
The shura has no fixed location. A senior western official says that when the heat is turned up during intermittent Pakistani security raids, or threats of American drone strikes, the shura members scatter as far as Karachi, 380 miles to the south.
Mullah Omar's deputy, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is said to be the chief shura organiser, while battlefield operations are in the hands of his military commander, Abdullah Zakir. Other nodes of militant leadership are hidden along the porous 1,600-mile border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Analysts speak of another shura in Peshawar, as well as groups controlled by the Taliban-allied warlords Sirajuddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. But the Quetta shura is by far the most important. As Barack Obama announced his Afghan surge plan recently, US officials put pressure on Pakistan to attack the Quetta shura by suggesting they could extend drone strikes to the area.
Pakistanis bristled at the demand, partly because the army is already stretched with other operations, but mostly for strategic reasons. Pakistan's army sees the Afghan Taliban as a future check against Indian influence in Afghanistan once western troops leave.
Balochistan also borders with Helmand, where almost 10,000 British troops are fighting. British officials say they have been quietly applying pressure on Pakistan to tackle the Quetta shura for several years, but with no results.