Pakistani authorities have reservations on a ‘selective approach’ by the US in peace talks with the Afghan Taliban and want them to include other insurgent groups apart from the one led by Mullah Omar.
Both the US and Afghan President Hamid Karzai confirmed over the weekend that talks with the Taliban were in process but it would take some time to strike a deal.
On Sunday, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates confirmed that there had been contacts between the US and the Taliban in recent weeks but said it could take months to broker a peace deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban. “There’s been outreach on the part of a number of countries, including the US. I would say that these contacts are preliminary at this point,” he said.
The process, according to reports in the western media, started some three years back under a plan to separate al Qaeda from the Taliban but things appeared to have gained pace since the killing of Osama bin Laden in May.
But all peace overtures have so far been limited only to the Taliban led by fugitive leader Mullah Omar.
Other insurgent groups like the Haqqani network, allegedly based in North Waziristan, the Salafi faction of the Taliban that controls Kunar and Nuristan provinces in Afghanistan and Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar have not been included.
“We want all these groups to be part of any engagement in Afghanistan … all of them have genuine stakes there. Without any of them, no arrangement can succeed,” a senior Pakistani official commented, requesting anonymity.
He said that the issue was at the centre of discussions at talks during Karzai’s recent trip to Islamabad when the two countries launched a bilateral commission to seek peace in Afghanistan. The commission, headed by the countries’ chief executives and including military and spy chiefs, is the first serious effort that indicates a ‘parallel arrangement’ to carry forward negotiations with the Taliban without American involvement.
“That is what we will like to move forward with … Americans are keeping us at a distance from any development. This is our answer to them: we can do it better without you,” the official said.
Another official said that the Afghan president had also expressed reservations about west’s way of handling the Afghan problem and assured that Pakistani authorities will focus more on peace negotiations through this bilateral mechanism.
Earlier this year, Karzai had established a High Peace Council of all parties in the Afghan parliament and tribal elders to reach out to the Taliban with an offer to accept them as a political force in the future. The council, led by Karzai’s predecessor Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, has already made some headway.
Wait and watch
Other officials said that the Pakistani military, which has its own plans for Afghanistan, has so far not reacted to any American initiative in the country but also wants the inclusion of Haqqanis and others in the process.
“At the moment it looks like they have a policy of wait and watch … they haven’t reacted so far and will not for some more time,” another official commented.
‘Taliban should feel pressured’
“I think that the Taliban have to feel themselves under military pressure, and begin to believe that they can’t win before they’re willing to have a serious conversation,” Gates told CNN. “My own view is that real reconciliation talks are not likely to be able to make any substantive headway until at least this winter,” he said.
WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM REUTERS
Published in The Express Tribune, June 20th, 2011.
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