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

Published: October 22, 2011
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‘MOTHER-IN-LAW’ IN TOWN: Hillary Clinton with Hina Rabbani Khar ahead of their joint press conference in Islamabad. PHOTO: AFP

‘MOTHER-IN-LAW’ IN TOWN: Hillary Clinton with Hina Rabbani Khar ahead of their joint press conference in Islamabad. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD: 

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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Reader Comments (45)

  • AnisAqeel
    Oct 22, 2011 - 6:14AM

    All’s Well That Ends Well.

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  • Oct 22, 2011 - 6:38AM

    Eventually they realised the urgency and Importance of Pakistan ! Pakistan’s top brass military and civil officials first Proved to be worthy and dexterous . Had they been surrendered on Mullen’s statement ,things could have become more tougher . If they know know how to own CIA and secret agencies then so must we do so that they remained cautioned to do any unprecedented step .

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  • OmarSharif
    Oct 22, 2011 - 7:03AM

    Whom are we kidding? Do you think guys like Fazlullah will sit and discuss peace with Hina and Hillary?

    Do you think our COAS will endorse such a move? No way.

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  • Rah Guzr
    Oct 22, 2011 - 7:43AM

    They wanted to Silence Taliban with arms then why do they want them to Talk now ?
    US should accept its defeat

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  • John B
    Oct 22, 2011 - 7:44AM

    U Turn? Perhaps ET should look at news files about Ankara talks, and Taliban office establishment discussion in UAE or Ankara. US was open to the Taliban talks since Musharraf time, with reservations, but not the way PAK and Taliban wanted it.

    What is the guarantee that Haqqani and other disgruntle Talibans are not going to turn against PAK, once US withdrawal starts.

    It is unlikely PPP is going to be reelected and PML-N may make concessions with hard core Islamists who are Taliban sympathizers to win elections and Taliban may begin to stake their claim.

    Haqqani are not going to give up without a fight and PAK will be in the middle of it later on.

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  • Not me
    Oct 22, 2011 - 8:04AM

    There has to be peace in the region.This should be the first goal.It is every ones’ interest.
    This war has costed a lot both in terms of human losses as well as financial losses.

    The fact is history is repeating: once more the foreign invaders are going back from Afghanistan without conquering.

    PS: was just thinking what will these NATO transporters do once the war stops?.And the local security “firms” who ensure safe passage?.

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  • Mohammad Ali Siddiqui
    Oct 22, 2011 - 8:05AM

    Pakistan should not mis-understand the situation that it can score some points when Hillary has asked that Pakistan should act as intermediary to initiate talking with Taliban.

    What Hillary means to say that if Pakistan wants that Taliban can be convinced to put down the arms, US will welcome such a move but it should not take months and years to negotiate the peace talks but it should be done in days.

    In case if Pakistan will fail to convince Taliban to come to the negotiating table and lay down the arms, US will also lose the patient and then the next option for US will be the surgical strikes that may also include ground advancement.

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  • amateen
    Oct 22, 2011 - 8:20AM

    “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.
    Yeah! That fits u Mrs. Clinton. Remember who gave birth to the talibaan snakes in Afghanistan. You can’t just think that those snakes would attack your enemy; THE SOVIETS.
    Ofcourse, a day came when they turned on US and now eventually those snakes turned on to you who kept them in the backyard. Pakistan is being bitten by the same snakes because Zia ul Haq was also one of these snakes fcare taker like US and so, back in time Pakistan was also the homeland for these snakes and is now been bitten by them. Don’t just put it on Pakistan. You were the parent of these Taliban and Zia was their guardian. With time, they became adults and now, they neither need the parent nor the guardian.

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  • Oct 22, 2011 - 8:21AM

    I think US want to play another game, Pakistan has to be careful this time. Other we know the results can be danger.

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  • Enlightened
    Oct 22, 2011 - 8:55AM

    cronies have almost always disappointed me. Why they had to get such a young person for an important job as foreign minister. Given she is a rising star but she is young. Why coudn’t they get someone like Maliha Lodhi for this job? Recommend

  • tasawar malik
    Oct 22, 2011 - 8:56AM

    Ooo I am feeling sad for indians and zionist, their hearts must be achingRecommend

  • csmann
    Oct 22, 2011 - 8:58AM

    with us withdrawing completely from iraq by years end,looks like it is working on getting out of afghanistan sooner too;many usa citizens want that;they dont want their sons to continuing dying and dollars spent on ungrateful people;leave them to their mullahs and haqqanis to deal with

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  • Bingo
    Oct 22, 2011 - 9:15AM

    I like the little old story Clinton narrated and it’s absolutely true.

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  • Hairaan
    Oct 22, 2011 - 9:15AM

    @Rah Guzr:
    Very right. US and its allies should accept their defeat before inviting Talibans on the discussion table.

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  • Oct 22, 2011 - 9:20AM

    To promise them lies like US did for Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Peru, Haiti, Guatemala, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Bolivia, Nicaragua, etc.

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  • R S JOHAR
    Oct 22, 2011 - 9:27AM

    Its not US but Pakistan who may take a U-turn and bow to US pressure in larger interest of Pakistan. If Pakistan refuses to see the writing on the wall, it must get ready to suffer grave consequences of backing the Haqqanis.

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  • Kazmis
    Oct 22, 2011 - 9:31AM

    With lot of laughter and with smiling faces Hillary Clinton gave a message before the media addressing all Pakistanis that US is with them, if they stand up against corruption. Can we foresee a big turmoil in Pakistan supported with US?

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  • Tariq Ahmad
    Oct 22, 2011 - 10:14AM

    When Pakistan thinks it is negotiating with itself it always wins, but the fact is, Pakistan will be out of money in a matter of days when the US closes its embassy in Islamabad as is expected in the next few months. Good luck getting money from China

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  • Pundit
    Oct 22, 2011 - 10:46AM

    @tasawar malik: Nah….the fact that Pakistan has been described as Snake infested……
    speaks volumes.

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  • Mirza
    Oct 22, 2011 - 10:59AM

    Mrs. Clinton and the US military officials are not here in Pakistan for picnic and parties. They mean business and they are telling what they expect from Pakistan. Even though Pakistani officials are behaving tough in public, but a military action would soon start against the terrorists. The world’s patience is wearing thin and Pakistan’s options are none except to help eliminate their “once strategic assets”.

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  • mehwish
    Oct 22, 2011 - 12:05PM

    Somebody ask Hillary when thy r stopping drone attacks and how long this so-called “war on terror will continue????and yes please ask what is their new definition of “terrorism”

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  • Sad but true
    Oct 22, 2011 - 12:24PM

    All in this day when Clinton is in Pakistan, Pres Obama’s announcement of withdrawing of over 140,000 BOOTS from Iraq, Pakistan winning a seat as non-permanent member of UNSC, Pakistan’s envoy to the United Nations, Abdullah Haroon said Pakistan would work with all the members of the Security Council ESPECIALLY India and a large-scale military operation has been launched in all the disturbed areas of Bara tehsil in Khyber Agency.Recommend

  • JPJ
    Oct 22, 2011 - 12:34PM

    @Mirza:
    Why US want to make a deal with them in Afghanistan and wants for Pakistan to fight them? Who made them terrorist? do anyone ask why they are doing terrorism ( fighting for freedom of their country ) ? Who is the terrorist everyone knows but can’t dare against a superpower, otherwise he will be next Gaddafi or Saddam or Osama or whatelse….

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  • Oct 22, 2011 - 1:15PM

    The interview held by our anchors was just a waste a time as not a single question of Pakistanis concern was asked. Our media is so cheap it is only for advertising not for addressing the people problems in any way.

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  • Fareedi
    Oct 22, 2011 - 1:17PM

    Finally a shadow of common sense!

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  • Not me
    Oct 22, 2011 - 2:11PM

    Basically USA had three foreign policy options in dealing with Pakistan:

    1) First option was deeper economic engagement and trade .I was felt this would stem the tide towards radicalisation and bring in development in Pakistan and with the neighbouring countries providing more trade and investment. With economic crisis in US and Europe, there was lack of sufficient support for this especially after May 2011 inceidence

    2)Second option was middle path –a new “containment” policy from the U.S., most recently advocated by Bruce O. Riedel, a former C.I.A. officer who led President Barack Obama’s policy review on Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2009.
    According to this view, Pakistan should be treated as an explicit adversary, not a petulant ally.
    There should be more accountability in civilian aid and military aid should be drastically cut.This policy is what US is adopting

    3) Third option— the most strident proposals call for outright hostilities with Pakistan, including a sharp escalation in drone attacks and may be at some stage de-fanging Pakistan (get the nukes)

    I feel Pakistan needs to ensure peace in the country and the region.We are in economic mess. We need economic stability and growth. Pakistan has high rate of growth of population and population is projected to double in about 27 years.
    There is bad governance.No institution building has taken place in past 3 odd years. Internationally,Pakistan needs to re-build it’s image. So let us try and help out in solving the Afghan mess…….as it is the 1980 Afghan crisis is cause of good part of the current extremism in the country

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  • Iron hand
    Oct 22, 2011 - 2:26PM

    @amateen: yes, the US once helped create and support the Taliban – SO WHAT? What does that have to do with the problem today?

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  • Hairaan
    Oct 22, 2011 - 2:43PM

    @R S JOHAR:
    You are with US or Pakistan?

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  • Amjad
    Oct 22, 2011 - 2:45PM

    It’s Not a defeat. It’s. It America soil. Who thinks that by killing so many Pakistanis through suicide attacks the Taliban have defeated America.? Foolish. Actually Pakistan is not taking serious action against those jangly Taliban terrorists who are very clerly involved in suicide attacks and killing thousands of innocent Pakistanis. Recommend

  • Noor
    Oct 22, 2011 - 2:49PM

    It is so wrong that they don’t want any group other than their allies to possess arms.

    they don’t want to let other schools of thought work.

    it is going to be a more unilateral world, and then what happens…..

    when you push the cat to the wall, it attacks with all the might.

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  • csmann
    Oct 22, 2011 - 3:01PM

    @Amjad:
    well said!!!

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  • Rana Athar Javed
    Oct 22, 2011 - 3:21PM

    Well, it is always not too late to convert your tactical desires into peace-making efforts. The open US offer to ask Pakistan’s help is in fact not a U turn. I believe this is normal in geo-strategic policies, they change with the changing dynamics. Coercive & rhetorical devices fails when they are applied in the face of popular opposition. Mr. Mike Mullen, Karl Levi and their other colleagues have only done good to Pak-US relations Diplomacy on the other hand, is a decent art of adjusting to each other’s foreign policy requirements. Current security situation is perfectly cultivated to involve maximum regional players in this so-called Third Great Game. Let China, Iran provide energy and infrastructural development. If India wants to show generosity in terms of building roads, let Pakistan as the closes neighbour and “twin brother” (as Mr. Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president) put it take lead in forming a Reconstruction Consortium to build Afghanistan. This would automatically neutralize the political hostility that is being generated between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Taking the trade route to redesign India-Pakistan relationship may just be one answer address longstanding issues including the core issue of Jammu & Kashmir . Engage India, in this way will pave the way to build trust between Pakistan and International community.

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  • AnisAqeel
    Oct 22, 2011 - 4:13PM

    @Mirza:
    Very right, they are not for picnic are parties. USA will have entire force coming back from Iraq for good and another large number of solders from Afghanistan (leaving about 15000 as caretaker to accomplish its mission). Pakistanis don’t see what can be the next step if Taliban and Haqqanis are not controlled within days and months. It can be a good opportunity to divert situation for our ‘compulsive mighty gamblers’.

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  • BruteForce
    Oct 22, 2011 - 4:29PM

    Look at the big picture. After 2014, US will get thousands of miles away from the snakes in Afghanistan and the snakes will run out of their favorite victim. Who is going to turn against?

    Last time it turned to wound India, but poisoned Pakistan’s society. This time, India has built an almost impenetrable border with Pakistan. Where will the snakes turn to? We already have the answer in a snake named TTP.

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  • cautious
    Oct 22, 2011 - 5:04PM

    The message has remained consistent — the USA will protect it’s troops and citizens from terrorist whether they hide in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Pakistan has a simple choice – eliminate the terrorist using Pakistan as sanctuary or convince them to stop fighting. The big entourage to Pakistan was a gesture to demonstrate that the USA military, civilian and intelligence agencies are all on the same page.

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  • R S JOHAR
    Oct 22, 2011 - 5:11PM

    @Hairaan:
    Of course with Pakistan, however my views are same as penned by Dr Mirza.

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  • Hairaan
    Oct 22, 2011 - 5:19PM

    @Amjad:
    My innocent brother wakeup. US is not concerned, bothered or worried about the Pakistanis being killed in terrorist attacks. Neither their definition of terrorism includes the sucide bomb attacks killing Pakistanis. The are only worried about the precious American lives which are targeted inside Afghanistan. The question is: why are they in Afghanistan in the first place?

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  • Freeman
    Oct 22, 2011 - 5:51PM

    @Mohammad Ali Siddiqui: US will never do any ground offence as they have already ruled out.

    They have already increased drone attacks. If drone attacks were that much good then they would have already much work. It sems drones are not doing much.

    I think Americans are not looking to Haqqani’s they are on some other game. Haqqani’s are Afghans. I think in Waziristan only their family members lives who are not actively participating in war. Mostly Haqqanis are in Afghanistans 4 provinces. Their Leadership also in Afghanistan.

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  • Freeman
    Oct 22, 2011 - 6:07PM

    @Amjad: In last 10 years Pakistan has conducted so many Operations and completed successfully. Last 10 years US keep asking Pakistan do more. Pakistan did “do more” Now again they are asking to do more. How much more? Did the America did more. Pakistan has limited capabilities. If America want all war done by the Pakistan Army then what they are doing with 150,000 Arm forces in Afghanistan with world best fighting machines in the the History of wars.

    Pakistan Army is so much stretched in 7 trible agencies. They can’t leave those areas where they already done operations as if they leave then Those TTP groups will come back again.

    If Army send troups to North Waziristan then those groups who are in that area will leave those areas and will spread all over the country. Also 600,000 population will need to avocuate from the north Waziristan. This is not an easy job. Already other Trible Agencies populations have not be able to go back to their houses until now.

    It is very simple to talk against Pakistan on these forums but its not simple to do In Trible areas.

    It is not fair to say that Pakistan is not serious. After 35,000 cilivians and 3500 arm personel are killed.

    Economic problem is due to bad Govt. governance. This Pakistan govt. is puppet of America. All this people of Pakistans fault to vote these type of corrupt people.

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  • Freeman
    Oct 22, 2011 - 6:12PM

    @csmann: If American govt. give scheduale when all invaders will be leaving the Afghanistan then I beleive all Taliban and Haqqanni groups will be on the table for the peace talk.

    If you check Amercans want dialogues on their own conditions but Taliban and other insurgents want first America announce when they will withdraw compeltely then will be on talk table.

    American is trying to establish permanant bases in Afghanistan. This is where they have differences. This is the reason they are not doing dialogue with America.

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  • Organization of Pure Profit
    Oct 22, 2011 - 6:54PM

    Money Talks. When we make peace with the afgans and the American boots leave, we’ll have access to all the mineral and drug rich afganistan. Our unaccounted black economy will blaze all its joints at once, the super max high in unofficial GDP per capita will maximize for Pakistan and its twin brother. This endogenous economic activity will allow penetration of Chinese Investors in the Energy and Infrastructure sectors of Afganistan. The decision is now, our Profit is our common future.Recommend

  • starboy
    Oct 23, 2011 - 1:47AM

    Good step by USA. They should talk to the taliban, because taliban were not involved in 9/11, it was Alqaida. Now when they have killed the terrorist Osama & his Arab jihadi followes. There is no alqaida in afghanistan anymore. Now america is fighting with taliban who r basically afghani people fighting against foreign ocupation. According to UN its the right of every person to fight for freedom against foreign occupation. America should settle this war politically not militarilly.

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  • Ahmer Ali
    Oct 23, 2011 - 10:05AM

    Assalam-o-Allaikum Warahmatullah.Now after this Hilary Clinton’s confessional statement about US’ and NATO’s troops the most worst defeat in Afghanistan is there any thing left to prove it that US’ leaders want to quit Afghanistan and withdraw their troops because now US’ leaders are seeking help from the muslim countries especially Afghanistan’s neighbor country Pakistan to resolve this most core and burning issue about Taliban/Alqaeda/Haqqani network.

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  • Tony C.
    Oct 23, 2011 - 8:02PM

    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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  • Mawali
    Oct 23, 2011 - 11:57PM

    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!

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