ISLAMABAD: Despite having suffered serious setbacks in the aftermath of the November 26 Nato airstrikes which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, Washington and Islamabad have continued ‘dialogue’ even amidst flaring tensions.
The US has taken Pakistan into confidence over the unprecedented development of allowing the Taliban a political office in Qatar to advance the Afghan reconciliation process, sources revealed.
A senior Pakistani official stated that the Obama administration not only sought Pakistan’s consent over the Taliban office but had also given a ‘green light’ to allow the deadliest Afghan insurgent group, the Haqqani network, to be a part of the reconciliation process.
The move by Washington was a clear deflection from its previous policy of keeping Islamabad at bay over its peace overtures with the Afghan Taliban.
“Yes, we were onboard,” said the senior Pakistani official referring to the latest push by Washington to seek a political settlement of the Afghan conflict.
The US has long resisted talks with the Haqqani network, believed to be based in the North Waziristan Agency.
Contrary to Washington’s prior stance, the country’s military establishment is now looking to avoid confronting the Haqqanis head on, arguing that the group has a ‘pivotal role’ in any future political dispensation of Afghanistan.
“They [Americans] are now following the same approach that we have been advocating for years,” said a security official, requesting not to be named. The official added that Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani himself conveyed to US President Barack Obama in late 2010 that a solution to the decade-old conflict in Afghanistan could only come through the meaningful talks with the Taliban.
The Pakistan military had even urged the US to announce a ceasefire in Afghanistan creating “favourable conditions for talks with the insurgents”, it was disclosed. But Washington, instead of following that policy, initiated talks with the Taliban on its own, said the official.
“The CIA had attempted to woo certain Taliban individuals but their efforts failed because those people had nothing to do with the Taliban,” commented defence analyst Brig (retd) Mehmood Shah.
Shah – the former security secretary of the Federal Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) – said the opening of the Taliban office was certainly a “positive development”.
An American diplomat also confirmed that the two countries have been engaging in dialogue on the Afghan endgame despite the recent hiccup in the relationship in the wake of the Nato attacks.
“We have already acknowledged that Pakistan has a critical role in the Afghan reconciliation process,” said the diplomat, who requested to remain anonymous.
Meanwhile, a Pakistani security official accepted the fact that despite Islamabad’s strong reaction to the Salala attack, the US did not escalate the situation further.
“The US approach has allowed us to keep the channel of communication open with them,” said the official.
The Express Tribune further learnt that Pakistan has asked the US not to send any senior officials to the country for the time being, bearing in mind the growing US resentment over the hugely unpopular Nato airstrikes.
Another western diplomat pointed out that Pakistan could have taken far worse steps than what was actually done after the Nato attack.
“The blocking of Nato supplies is of course a big decision, but it certainly isn’t a drastic step,” the diplomat told The Express Tribune.
“Had Pakistan denied its airspace to the Nato forces, that would have been a disaster,” he remarked.
(Pakistan-US relations: year end review)
Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2012.