ISLAMABAD: Behind-the-scene efforts to seek peace with insurgents fighting Nato troops in neighbouring Afghanistan have made little or no progress because of differences between Pakistan and the US over the definition of ‘reconcilable’ Taliban.
The Express Tribune has learnt that Islamabad, as part of the reconciliation efforts to find an end to the years of bloodshed in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas, has identified certain groups for negotiations. One such group is North Waziristan-based al Qaeda-inspired Haqqani network.
But the US does not agree. “This is the real contentious point. Pakistan believes the Haqqani network is reconcilable but the US certainly does not think that is the case,” a senior American diplomat told The Express Tribune.
Requesting not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, the diplomat questioned the wisdom of Pakistan over considering a group reconcilable, which has strong links with al Qaeda.
Led by aging Jalauddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin Haqqani, the group has strongholds in Afghanistan’s Paktia, Paktika and Khost provinces. But, it has also foot soldiers in several parts of the war-ravaged country to fight the US-led Nato forces. And that is the reason the Obama administration has been pressing Pakistan to eliminate ‘safe heavens’ of the group from the tribal areas.
But, Pakistan’s policymakers think differently.
“The US policy is really confusing at this stage. They want reconciliation yet they ask Pakistan to target groups who can be helpful for a political settlement,” remarked a military official. “We have been telling the Americans that don’t alienate all elements of the Afghan Taliban by using force against them,” said the official, who requested not to be identified.
He said Pakistan does not believe that launching an offensive against the Haqqani network at this stage will be in the ‘national interest.’
“The Haqqani network has to play a major role in any future political settlement of Afghanistan,” he added. And this is why, Pakistan is very careful about going after them, he maintained.
A senior foreign ministry official talks more candidly. “We do not consider the Afghan Taliban as Pakistan’s enemies. They never threaten us, they are our assets,” was the blunt response of the official when asked to share Islamabad’s perspective on the Afghan Taliban.
US officials say this confirms their fear that Pakistan has a ‘hands-off’ approach towards certain groups. “Pakistan has nurtured groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba as their assets and now the same militant organisations are haunting you,” said a senior US diplomat. “Gen Patreaus and Gen Kayani have been discussing these issues regularly,” he said.
He said the Obama administration is in favour of reconciliation but not with groups identified by Pakistan.
“It is a known fact that the Haqqani network is closely-linked with al Qaeda and this is a disqualification,” he said.
Former ambassador to Afghanistan Rustam Shah Mohmand said Pakistan would have to pay “a heavy price” if it goes after the Haqqani network.
“If Pakistan, for the sake of $2 billion in US aid, goes after the Haqqani network, it will have to face (serious) consequences over the next 50 years,” warned Mohmand, who is part of the Pakistan-Afghanistan jirga and considered to be linked with the military establishment.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 30th, 2010.