U-turn?: Convince Taliban to talk, US asks Pakistan

Clinton, however, also asks for action within ‘days and weeks’ against alleged safe havens.

Munizae Jahangir/kamran Yousaf October 22, 2011


After months of belligerent rhetoric, the US is now willing to hold talks with the Afghan Taliban – and is looking at Pakistan as its go-between.

Speaking at a flurry of events on Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she had asked Pakistan to “encourage the Taliban to enter negotiations in good faith.” These talks would also involve the Haqqani network, a move which speaks volumes for the US’ urgency to end the decade-old conflict in the war-torn country.

(Read: A middle ground must be found)

In apparent diplomatic double-speak, however, Clinton also insisted that Pakistan take action within “days and weeks” to dismantle alleged terrorist sanctuaries on its soil, warning that a failure to do so would have devastating consequences for all concerned. “We should be able to agree that for far too long extremists have been able to operate here in Pakistan and from Pakistani soil,” she said.

“It’s like that old story: you can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours ... eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard,” Clinton added.

Clinton’s requests for Pakistan to act as an intermediary were the first time the US had formally and publicly called for such action, and appear to reflect the Obama administration’s strong belief that Pakistan still holds significant sway over the Afghan Taliban. The secretary of state urged Pakistan to use its contacts with the “Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqanis and the other terrorist groups and try to get them into the peace process, but if that fails, to prevent them from committing more violence.”

Clinton has outlined three conditions for talks with the militants: they must lay down arms, abide by the Afghan constitution and respect basic human rights, especially women’s rights. On this latter point Clinton spoke at some length.

Despite reapplying pressure on Pakistan over alleged safe havens in North Waziristan, Clinton admitted, as had been earlier reported, that the US had already held a meeting with representatives from the Haqqani network, which was arranged through the ISI. “It was Pakistan who delivered the contact person,” Clinton said.

(Read: US met Haqqani network - Clinton)

However, the Secretary of State stressed that the talks could not be termed a negotiation: “We’ve had one preliminary meeting just to see if they would show up.” It is believed the meeting took place during the summer, well before the attacks mounted by the insurgent group against US troops stationed in Afghanistan.

Clinton, who led a high-powered US delegation that includes CIA Director David Petraeus and the new Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, held extensive talks with Pakistan’s top civil and military leadership. It was unusual for such senior civil, military and intelligence officials to undertake a joint trip to Pakistan, and the Secretary of State said this reflected the urgency and the importance of working through the many challenges that the countries face.

(Read: ‘Clear’ on both ends: US talks war, Pakistan preaches peace)

Asked whether Pakistan and the US had reached an understanding on the Haqqani network, Clinton said there are options other than a military clampdown. Although she said that Pakistan should not “allow them (the Haqqanis) across the border into Afghanistan,” the Secretary of State emphasised that the US was “on the same page with (Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez) Kayani.”

Clinton also admitted that the US has no evidence of direct ISI involvement in the attack on the US Embassy in Kabul last month, as was earlier claimed by the US’ then top military man Admiral Mike Mullen. She also agreed that every intelligence agency has contacts with unsavory characters as it is part of their job.

(Read: Attack in Kabul and beyond)

The secretary of state went on to say that, at one point, Washington had considered unilateral action inside Pakistan. Clinton imagined a scenario in which more US personnel had lost their lives at the hands of the Haqqanis. Sentiments would have run high, she explained, but “boots on the ground was never a serious option.”

Foreign Minister Khar, who attended the high-level talks and held separate meeting with Clinton, acknowledged the presence of safe havens of terrorists in the tribal areas. “Do safe havens exist? Yes, they do exist – on both sides. Do we need to cooperate? Yes. We can cooperate more and achieve better results,” she added.

Clinton also highlighted the importance of trade between the two countries, having met President Asif Zardari and discussed economic cooperation. She added that the gas pipeline from Turkemenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan “is a good thing and we endorse it; it will bring prosperity to the region,” while urging caution over proposed cooperation with Iran, a “difficult and a dangerous” neighbour for Pakistan in her view.

Later Clinton interacted with Pakistani civil society leaders at a townhall style forum where she was confronted with tough questions. One of the female participants likened the United States to an unsatisfied mother-in-law.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd, 2011.


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Mawali | 9 years ago | Reply

Pakistan should talk to the Taliban straight and assure them that the Pakistani version of the war on terror is over and done! The US is a free country and can decide its own destiny- run!

Tony C. | 9 years ago | Reply

The proposals put forward by Ms. Clinton will require a thorough analysis, but a quick read would suggest that America is not really serious about negotiating with the Taliban. Ten years ago, America summarily removed the Taliban from Government in Afghanistan, after slaughtering an untold number of Afghanistan men, pushed the Taliban into the back blocks of Afghanistan / Pakistan, and then proceeded to create a new Government with American hand picked personnel, controlled by a Constitution written by the U.S. The Taliban, who undoubtedly feel they are the legitimate Government, have been fighting the Americans ever since, and appear to be very successful in putting them under great pressure. It is fairly obvious that the U.S. is not winning the war, and are suffering severe financial and military problems as they try to find a way out of the incredible problems they have created for themselves. Now, to rub salt into the wounds of the Taliban, Ms. Clinton is saying: "we want to negotiate with you, but you must lay down your arms first, and accept the Constitution we have created". Added to this they seem to be putting most of the blame on Pakistan shoulders, and asking the Pakistan Government to do all the hard negotiating work they, the Americans, do not want to do. To sum up: the Americans blamed the Taliban ten years ago for allowing terrorists to exist; the Americans have been trying, with a huge world military, to control terrorism for ten years and have failed; they really want to get out but are laying down conditions nobody will go along with; the Americans have created a monstrous mess and want Pakistan to clean it up for them; the Americans are really saying it is all Pakistan's fault and are threatening Pakistan if they do not get the Americans out of the morass they created all on their own. I am glad I am not part of the Pakistan Government. The Americans have placed Pakistan between a rock and a hard place. There is no solution, and Pakistan can do very little about it. They will just have to wait until American is really serious about getting out, and allowing the Taliban to be part of the Afghanistan Government. I would say that we have some way to go before this happens.

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