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Af, Pak begin Taliban talks

Afghanistan and Pakistan are talking about how to make peace with insurgents fighting US troops in Afghanistan, including one faction considered the coalition forces’ most lethal foe, according to Pakistani and US officials.

world Updated: Jun 20, 2010 23:44 IST

Afghanistan and Pakistan are talking about how to make peace with insurgents fighting US troops in Afghanistan, including one faction considered the coalition forces’ most lethal foe, according to Pakistani and US officials.

The discussions reflect the beginnings of a thaw in relations between Kabul and Islamabad, which are focused on shaping the aftermath of what they fear could be a more abrupt withdrawal of US troops than is now anticipated.

But one element of the effort — outreach by Pakistan to the militia headed by the young commander Sirajuddin Haqqani — faces opposition from US officials, who consider the Al-Qaeda-linked group too brutal to be tolerated.

At Pakistan’s suggestion, General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the chief of Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency, made an unprecedented trip last month to Kabul to discuss with Afghan President Hamid Karzai a wide range of possible cooperation, including mediating with Pakistan-based insurgents.

Several weeks ago, Pasha and Pakistan’s army chief General Ashfaq Kiyani returned to continue the discussion. There is no agreement between the two, but a Pakistani security official said the outreach to insurgents is “not a problem.”

The previously undisclosed visits came as the US, gradually warming to the idea of reconciliation with insurgents, encourages improved relations between the two governments, which have long viewed each other with suspicion.

But Obama administration officials have cautioned Afghanistan and Pakistan that they will not support talks with Haqqani’s militia.

“We think reconciliation has to have an Afghan face,” a senior administration official said in Washington, adding the US “understands” the desire to talk. But the US has made clear, the official said, that “we expect to be treated as full partners and not to be surprised”. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of discussing frictions with allies.

The talks are a reminder that Afghanistan and Pakistan each has an agenda independent of its relationship with the US and that they may draw different lines in deciding how and when to make peace.

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