Both the Afghan and US governments have recently made contact with the most fearsome insurgent group in Afghanistan, the Haqqani network, the Guardian has learned.
Hamid Karzai's government held direct talks with senior members of the Haqqani clan over the summer, according to well-placed Pakistani and Arab sources. The US contacts have been indirect, through a western intermediary, but have continued for more than a year.
The Afghan and US talks were described as extremely tentative. The Haqqani network has a reputation for ruthlessness and has the closest ties with Al Qaeda. But Kabul and Washington have come to the conclusion that they cannot be excluded if an enduring peace settlement is to be reached.
A senior Pakistani official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said “you wouldn't be wrong” when asked whether talks involving Haqqani, Karzai and the US were taking place. But he refused to comment further, citing the sensitivity of the matter.
A senior western official said the US now considers the Haqqani network to be more powerful than the Quetta Shura, the council headed by the Taliban's leader, Mullah Omar.
“The Quetta Shura is still important but not as much as people thought two years ago. Its prestige and impact have waned, and they are increasingly less important on the battlefield. Now the military threat comes from the Haqqanis,” the official said.
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that there had been top-level contacts between Kabul and the Quetta Shura, but not the Haqqani network.