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Pak: Give us Afghan lead role

world Updated: Feb 11, 2010 00:03 IST

Pakistan has told the United States it wants a central role in resolving the Afghan war and has offered to mediate with Taliban factions who use its territory and have long served as its allies, US and Pakistani officials said.

The offer, aimed at preserving Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan once the Americans leave, could both help and hurt U.S. interests as Washington debates reconciling with the Taliban.

Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, made clear Pakistan’s willingness to mediate at a meeting late last month at NATO headquarters with top US military officials, a senior U.S. military official familiar with the meeting said.

It is a departure from Pakistan’s previous reluctance to approach the Taliban. The meeting included the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen; the head of Central Command, Gen. David H. Petraeus; and the commander of U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the official said. “The Pakistanis want to be part of discussions that could involve reconciliation,” the official said.

Pakistan’s desire to work with the United States in an Afghanistan endgame is likely to be discussed when the national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, visits Islamabad, this week. So far, the United States has been more eager to push Pakistan to fight Taliban than to negotiate with them, and has not endorsed Pakistan’s new approach.

The Pakistani offer makes clear that any stable solution to the war will have to take into account Afghanistan’s neighbors, in a region where Pakistan, India, China, Iran and others all jostle for power.

Pakistani officials familiar with Kayani’s thinking said that even as the United States adds troops to Afghanistan, he has determined that the Americans are looking for a fast exit.

What the Pakistanis can offer is their influence over the Taliban network of Jalaluddin and Siraj Haqqani, whose forces US commanders say are the most lethal battling US and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan.

From their stronghold in Pakistan’s tribal area of North Waziristan, the Haqqanis exert sway over large parts of southern Afghanistan and have staged major terrorist attacks in Kabul, US officials say.

They are close allies of Al Qaeda. But they also have long ties to Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies who have protected them inside Pakistani territory.

In return for trying to rein in the Haqqanis, Pakistan will be looking for a friendly Afghanistan and for ways to stem the growing Indian presence there, Pakistani and US officials said.