WASHINGTON: American officials secretly met with leaders of the Haqqani network this summer in an effort to draw them into talks on winding down the war, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Wednesday.
“We’ve got no illusions about what the Haqqanis ultimately are,” said a senior US official said. But the “war is going to end with a deal. That’s what we’re trying to make inevitable. The more parties are involved in talking, the better the deal is likely to be.”
The official declined to discuss the talks with the Haqqanis, describing them as “early and not very well defined.”
The senior US official said there had been at least one meeting over the summer between US officials and Haqqani representatives, adding that the meeting was set up by spy agency ISI.
The meeting took place as the Haqqanis were stepping up attacks in and around Kabul, but before their most high-profile strike to date, the assault on the US embassy, which began on Sept 13.
The assault made the effort to talk to the Haqqanis more difficult, but the effort to get a peace process going has not been abandoned, officials said.
The State Department would not comment directly on outreach to the Haqqanis. Spokesman Mark Toner, citing previous comments by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said: “We have a broad range of contacts across Afghanistan and the region … these contacts are preliminary in nature.”
A Pakistani official said Islamabad began facilitating contacts with the Haqqanis late last year and set up the meeting this summer in a Persian Gulf country. The Afghan government did not take part, WSJ reported.
The US would not identify the participants; the Pakistani official said the insurgents were represented by one of the brothers of the main leader of the network, Sirajuddin Haqqani.
Sirajuddin told the BBC in an interview published on Monday that “not only Pakistan, but other Islamic countries, and other non-Islamic countries, including America, contacted us and they are still doing so.” He claimed that the US had asked him to break with Taliban leader Mullah Omar and join Hamid Karzai’s government.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 6th, 2011.