ISLAMABAD: Stiff US opposition to Pakistan’s initiative for rapprochement between the Haqqani network and Kabul has halted the negotiations, possibly jeopardising Karzai’s plans for reconciliation with militants.
The halt in negotiations came after the recent change in the Isaf command because of Gen McChrystal’s unexpected sacking. The new commander, Gen David H. Petraeus, who is said to be a hawk, believes that warring groups need to be first hammered in the field before they agree to reconciliation.
Moreover, the less than congenial working relationship between the new Isaf commander and the Pakistan Army’s top brass has also contributed to this stoppage, which many think is temporary.
Negotiators involved in the mediation told Dawn that talks were progressing well until this recent snag and they had noted a change in the group’s position for the better.
The government had last month started efforts for brokering a deal between Karzai and the Haqqanis, offering the warring group’s leadership a plan for a political settlement.
Senior officials, in background interviews while explaining Pakistan’s position on the issue, said Islamabad foremost wanted the reconciliation process to be Afghan-led and also desired that it should have international, more importantly American, support. “Pakistan cannot do it alone,” one of them noted.
Although the Obama administration is in favour of a Pakistani role in the reconciliation process, it is sceptical of success of in its current efforts. The dominant thinking in Washington is that it is not the right time for reconciliation.
The Obama administration deems Haqqanis as irreconcilables and has been pressuring Islamabad to launch an offensive against the group in North Waziristan.
“The US position is negatively impacting the Afghan endgame and is encouraging other players, both domestic and international, to exploit the situation,” an official observed.
The reconciliation issue is expected to feature during the coming visit of the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to Islamabad for the second round of Pak-US dialogue.
“We will be possibly having very intense discussions with the secretary of state on this issue,” an official at the Foreign Office said.
Pakistani strategists looking after the talks with Haqqani network leaders were always aware that the biggest challenge to their plan would come from the US. But, still they launched the process with an understanding that the US attitude towards the Haqqani network will become less intransigent with the passage of time given the Americans were keen to begin withdrawal by July 2011 – the deadline set by President Barack Obama.
Pakistani strategists consider the group as their best bet for countering Indian influence in a post-US Afghanistan.