Afghanistan looks to Pakistan for help with Taliban
As Pakistan deals with the fallout from Tuesday's assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani met Wednesday with Pakistan's military chief to help nudge the Taliban to the negotiating table.
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Serious negotiations to end the Afghan war have so far failed to get underway because of divergent preconditions set by the Taliban and the United States. The Taliban want US troop withdrawal to be on the table; the US wants the Taliban to accept the Afghan Constitution and to disarm and disown any international agenda.Skip to next paragraph
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Pakistan involvement in Taliban talks
When members of the Taliban and the Karzai government tried to secretly start talking anyway, Pakistan rounded up the Taliban involved. Many analysts interpret the arrests as a Pakistani effort to control the terms of the talks.
Mr. Karzai has since moved closer to Pakistan. But there’s little indication yet that he or Rabbani will get the Pakistanis to help soften Taliban preconditions. Instead, the language of current and retired officials suggests Pakistan intends to stand off from the “talks about talks,” allowing the Taliban to play hardball in setting the rules.
“Unless the Americans agree to make withdrawal of American forces a negotiating point then there is no point in talks,” says Roshtam Shah Mohmand, a former ambassador to Afghanistan who will meet with Rabbani.
Rabbani is likely to hear a similar message when he meets with Hamid Gul, a retired chief of Pakistan’s intelligence services.
“Once the basic requirements of the Taliban are met, then Pakistan can be helpful as a facilitator. Pakistan cannot influence the Taliban,” says Mr. Gul.
Abdul Basit, spokesperson for Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, also denies that Pakistan has influence over the Taliban.
“I would not use the term ‘influence,’” says Mr. Basit. “We can facilitate in certain respects; we can definitely play a role, but that role has to be defined by the Afghans themselves.”
Asked whether Afghans can freely decide on their own when Pakistan has rounded up past Taliban negotiators, Basit said those were joint operations with the Americans and a response to US and Afghan calls to arrest Taliban figures.
The India card
Pakistan ultimately remains concerned about trumping India’s role in whatever government ultimately emerges in war-battered Afghanistan. Rabbani can play a role in assuaging those concerns given that he represents a faction in Afghanistan that has looked more toward India than Pakistan for support.
After Rabbani’s visit, top representatives of Afghanistan and Pakistan may have a chance to meet on the sidelines of a memorial in Washington for US special envoy Richard Holbrooke to be held Jan. 14. Mr. Holbrooke played a role in brokering the recent bilateral thaw, including a trade agreement last July that allowed Afghan trucks to cross Pakistan to reach India.
Holbrooke’s successor, Frank Ruggiero, will make his maiden trip this week to both countries as the US special envoy.