Monday, November 29, 1999

Pak trying to act as bridge between Karzai, Haqqani network

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Pakistan is trying to mediate for a rapprochement between Afghanistan's dreaded Haqqani network and the Hamid Karzai government, in an apparent effort to have a major say in the country's set up after the American troops withdraw in 2011.Pakistan has entered the reconciliation process in Afghanistan by taking on the task of acting as a bridge between the network of militant commander Sirajuddin Haqqani and the government in Kabul, a media report said today."Preliminary contacts have been established with Siraj Haqqani and other leaders of his group through intermediaries in a bid to engineer a rapprochement with the Karzai administration," an unnamed senior Pakistani security official was quoted as saying by the Dawn newspaper.Intermediaries have presented a roadmap for a political settlement between Kabul and the Haqqanis, the official said.If the plan is accepted by the two sides, it could bring peace to the war-torn country, government officials claimed.The Al Qaeda-linked Haqqani group is considered the most potent militant faction in Afghanistan and is viewed as a serious threat by the regime of President Hamid Karzai and American troops."Although the future of the initiative is unclear at the moment, the initial signs are encouraging because the leadership of the militant group appears to be willing (to talk)," the security official said.However, the daily reported that Pakistani officialswere reluctant to discuss the matter at length and few details were available about the talks.The initiative on the part of the Pakistan government follows overtures from the Afghan government.Analysts noted that there had been a change in President Karzai's attitude towards Pakistan in recent weeks.Karzai's hostile statements against Pakistan have apparently stopped and he acknowledged Pakistan's role in the Afghan reconciliation process during his visit to Islamabad in March.In addition, the resignation of Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh and Interior Minister Hanif Atmar is likely to help improve relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan.Though Saleh ostensibly quit because of a security failure during a Taliban attack on the jirga held in Kabul in the first week of June, observers noted that his departure from the government fulfils a longstanding demand of Pakistan.Saleh has vocal in his criticism of Karzai since his resignation.He has alleged that Karzai is now looking to Pakistan, instead of the US, to bring peace to Afghanistan.The report said Islamabad's efforts to mediate between the Haqqani network and Kabul were result of intense pressure from the US to launch an offensive in North Waziristan.However, the Pakistani military is not interested in opening another front in the tribal belt as it is already dealing with active operations in areas like the Orakzai Agency and wants to hold off going into North Waziristan.At the same time, it is no secret that the military's reluctance stems from a number of other reasons, the report said.Pakistan Army officials have explained on more than one occasion that the Haqqani network has not been involved in attacks inside Pakistan and is not a direct threat to the state as are other militant groups.More importantly, elements within the military establishment which still maintains contacts with Sirajuddin Haqqani and his father Jalaluddin Haqqani feel that the duo can yield results for Islamabad in future, analysts believe.If the Haqqani network becomes part of the future regime in Afghanistan, it can and will provide Pakistan a say in the country's affairs, they said.It is against this backdrop that Pakistani civilian and military officials are pushing for a deal between Karzai and the Haqqani network.The biggest challenge in working out a settlement is the US reaction to such an arrangement, analysts said.Pakistani officials told the Dawn that the US attitude towards the Haqqani network will become "less intransigent with time".Pakistan is aware that the Americans are keen to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan by July 2011 the deadline set by President Barack Obama and in order for this to happen, Kabul will have to start a dialogue with some Taliban groups.American officials have conceded on more than one occasion that at some stage the Taliban can be engaged, provided certain conditions are met, such as cutting off ties with Al Qaida and foreign terrorist groups.That this possibility does not exclude the Haqqani group is clear from statements of officials within the US administration and military.US Central Command Director of Intelligence Maj Gen Michael Flynn was quoted by The Atlantic magazine as saying that Jalaluddin Haqqani was "absolutely salvageable".Karzai has in the past tried at least twice in 2007 and 2009 to woo the Haqqani group but to no avail.It even refused to attend the recent Kabul peace jirga.But since then, Pakistani officials claim that the Haqqanis have been persuaded to talk to Karzai.The Haqqani network, which is operationally headed by Jalaluddin Haqqani's son Sirajuddin, is believed to have sanctuaries in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region close to the Afghan border and is viewed as one of the most potent militant groups active in Afghanistan.Though the group operates largely in the southeastern Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika, US-led forces have accused it of carrying out attacks in Kabul and Kandahar, including one on the Indian mission in the Afghan capital.While Pakistani military and Foreign Office officials are willing to talk about this initiative in off-the-record conversations, the official line from the Foreign Office remains ambiguous: "Pakistan will continue supporting Afghanistan-led efforts towards reintegration and reconciliation".

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