Against the backdrop of harsh and increasingly vocal criticism of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism campaign in the tribal areas, the United States has proposed holding a trilateral meeting between Washington, Islamabad and Kabul here on Tuesday, an official source told The Express Tribune. US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman is arriving in Islamabad on Monday, as part of efforts by the US to mend fences with its key ally in the region.
The move comes days after US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen accused the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of backing the Haqqani network and providing “safe havens” for the Afghan Taliban. Grossman, when asked to comment on Mullen’s assessment, said on Friday he had “nothing to add or to subtract from whatever Mullen said,” reported the Hindustan Times.
Meanwhile, Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Jaweed Ludin is also due here on Monday and, along with Grossman, will attend talks with Pakistan’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar, the source said.
The trilateral meeting will “review the strategic partnership against terrorism in Afghanistan and the situation in other parts of the war-torn country,” the source said, adding that Tuesday’s talks will also prepare the agenda for a senior-level trilateral dialogue to be held in Washington in June.
It was also proposed, during the recent meeting between Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, that the three countries, including the US, would take unanimous decisions on their strategic partnership in ‘core group’ meetings, said an official source of the ministry of foreign affairs.
The core group comprises senior military and civilian leaders of the three countries.
“Washington has supported the proposal,” the source said, adding that the United Kingdom has also backed the idea, although it is not part of the core group.
Reconciling with the Taliban
Grossman’s trip is not only meant to mend fences with Islamabad but also to accelerate the reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
Unlike his predecessor late Richard Holbrooke, Grossman’s mandate is confined to looking after the reconciliation efforts with the Afghan Taliban, official sources say.
“And that is why Grossman is also traveling to Saudi Arabia apart from Pakistan and Afghanistan,” said a Western diplomat on the condition of anonymity.
It is widely believed that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are pushing for political settlement in Afghanistan by reaching out to the Taliban.
Islamabad and Kabul have already formed a joint commission to work out modalities for direct negotiations with the Afghan Taliban. But there are fears that substantive progress cannot be achieved unless the US is on board.
The reconciliation process, therefore, is on the agenda of the trilateral meeting that will discuss the Afghan endgame and the way forward, said a foreign office official.
Pakistan’s Ambassador to Washington Hussain Haqqani confirmed that senior officials from the three countries will meet next week in Islamabad to discuss the reconciliation process.
In an interview with the CNN, Haqqani acknowledged differences between Pakistan and the US on Afghanistan but insisted that the two countries would be able to overcome the impediments.
In a related development, the new Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Muhammad Umer Doudzai will present his credentials to President Asif Ali Zardari on Monday. He is also expected to join Tuesday’s talks.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2011.
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