By Baqir Sajjad Syed
“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,” a senior security official told Dawn.
ISLAMABAD, June 15: Pakistan has dived headlong into the Afghanistan reconciliation process by taking on the task of acting as a bridge between the Haqqani network and the government in Kabul, Dawn has learnt.
The intermediaries, the source claims, have presented a roadmap for a political settlement between Kabul and the Haqqanis.
If the plan is accepted by the two sides, it could bring peace to the war-torn country, claim government officials. The Al Qaeda-linked Haqqani group is considered the most potent warring faction in Afghanistan and is viewed as a serious threat by the Karzai regime and also by the American troops there. “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 told Dawn. However, Pakistani officials are reluctant to discuss the matter in detail and hence few details are available about the talks.
The initiative on the part of the Pakistan government has followed overtures from the Afghanistan government. Analysts agree that there has been a change in the attitude of Afghan President Hamid Karzai towards Pakistan in recent weeks.
Karzai’s hostile statements against Islamabad seem to have stopped; in fact he acknowledged Pakistan’s role in the reconciliation process in his visit to Islamabad in March.
In addition, resignations by Afghanistan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh and interior minister Hanif Atmar are also likely to help improve relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Even though Saleh ostensibly quit because of a security failure, a rocket attack during a jirga held in Kabul in the first week of June, observers point out that his departure from the government fulfils a longstanding demand of Pakistan.
In fact, Saleh has been quite vocal in his criticism of Karzai since his resignation; he has alleged that the president is now looking towards Pakistan, instead of the United States, to bring peace to Afghanistan.
Dawn has learnt that Islamabad’s efforts to mediate between the Haqqani group and Kabul were the result of intense pressure from the United States to launch an offensive in North Waziristan.
However, the military is not interested in opening another front in Fata as it is already dealing with active operations in places such as Orakzai 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. For instance, army officials have on more than one occasion explained that the Haqqani group has not been involved in attacks inside Pakistan and hence it is not a direct threat to the state as are other militant groups.
But, more importantly, some analysts feel that elements within the military establishment, which still maintain contacts with the Haqqani duo, feel that the father-son team can yield results for Islamabad in future; if the group becomes a part of the future regime in Afghanistan, it can and will provide Pakistan a say in the country’s affairs.
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, however, defence analysts believe, is the US reception of such an arrangement.
But officials tell 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 withdrawal 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, on more than one occasion, conceded that at some stage the Taliban can be engaged provided certain conditions are met, such as cutting off ties with Al Qaeda and other foreign terrorist groups.
That this possibility does not exclude the Haqqani group is clear from the statements of officials within the US administration and military. For instance, US Central Command Director of Intelligence Major General Michael Flynn had been 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 region close to the Pak-Afghan border and is viewed as one of the most potent warring groups active in Afghanistan.
Though this group operates largely in the south-eastern provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika, allied forces have accused it of carrying out attacks in Kabul and Kandahar as well, including the one on the Indian mission in Kabul.
However, while 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.”
Tags: Afghanistan Reconciliation Process, Al Qaeda linked, islamabad, Kabul Government, Karzai administration, Pak-Afghan border, Pakistan trying to broker Afghan deal, Preliminary contacts, president-hamid-karzai, Siraj Haqqani, war-torn country