Politics Summary: Tuesday, February 16th

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The Taleban’s most senior commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar has been detained in Karachi in a secret raid by US and Pakistani intelligence forces. The New York Times claims Baradar, second only to Mullah Omar in the Taleban command, has been in custody for several days undergoing “interrogations”. His capture “could cripple the Taliban’s military operations” says the NYT, with hopes high that he could be pressured into revealing the whereabouts of Mullah Omar. As far back as November 2001, adds the report, Mullah Baradar was seized by Afghan militia allied to the coalition – only to be freed by the ISI. Last year Left Foot Forward reported how close US troops came to capturing bin Laden himself in December 2001.

The news of Baradar’s detention comes as the civilian death toll from Operation Moshtarak reached 20. The Guardian reports the latest casualties as being caught in the crossfire and mistaken for insurgents in Marjah, in addition to the 12 killed in Sunday’s artillery strike, with five civilians killed last night in an air strike in Kandahar. Encouraging news, however, from The Independent, which reports Taleban forces on the retreat in Marjah, the insurgents being “squeezed into ever-smaller pockets”, most of the town now under Nato and Afghan control. The Telegraph, meanwhile, reports the prime minister’s vow to “drive out” the Taleban. Speaking as news came through of the third British soldier to die in the past two days, he said: “I believe that we will break the Taliban during this enterprise because people do not want to have the fear that is created by the Taliban and the possibility of al Qaida coming back into Afghanistan.”

The profits at Barclays are up 92 per cent to £11.6 billion – with the bank set to pay out £1.5 billion in cash bonuses. The profits are almost double the £6.08 billion Barclays made in 2008, reports the Financial Times, with shares in Barclays jumping 8.7 per cent in early London trading to 299p. Barclays, says The Independent, paid out an additional £1.2 billion in long-term bonuses over three years. Of the £2.7 billion, adds the Indy, “around 80% or £2.1 billion was paid out in bonuses to 23,000 investment bankers”, with the average compensation per employee in Barclays Capital a staggering £191,000. The Telegraph reports that the cost to the company of paying Britain’s bonus tax “would come to £225m – £190m for 2009 and £35m for awards from previous years”.

The Times reports that MPs may be forced to pay back profits on second homes. In an interview with the paper, Sir Ian Kennedy, chairman of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), called for MPs to show they were serious about the issue. He said: “This is a central question for me. Gains made in that way should not be retained. The mechanism for doing it is the only question we have to decide.” Sir Ian also revealed that 30 staff from the fees office, “accused of authorising questionable claims”, were being hired by IPSA.

And The Guardian reports that the News of the World may offer pr man Max Cliffford cash “to settle illegal phone hacking case”. The case could prove very embarrassing to Tory leader David Cameron, whose media adviser Andy Coulson edited the NotW at the time of the illegal intercepts. “The Clifford case threatened to bring important new material into the public domain,” adds the reprot. “Two weeks ago, his lawyers won a court order for the disclosure of material which, the high court was told, would reveal widespread crime at the paper during Coulson’s time there. Today, however, there were signs at the high court that the case is being stalled or dropped.”

• US magazine Dissent hosts “Obama – what’s gone wrong?” on March 24 at 6.30pm for a high profile panel debate. Free. To RSVP email [email protected]

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