NEW YORK: Afghanistan's attempt to gain leverage over Pakistan by cultivating an alliance with the Pakistani Taliban was discovered by the United States, which raided a convoy carrying a senior militant leader and captured him, The New York Times reported from Kabul on Tuesday.
“The disrupted plan involved Afghan intelligence trying to work with the Pakistan Taliban, allies of Al Qaeda, in order to find a trump card in a baroque regional power game that is likely to intensify after the American withdrawal next year,” the newspaper said, citing US and Afghan officials.
Latif Mehsud was being transported by an Afghan convoy for secret talks last month when US Special Forces, on a tip off, disrupted the plan and took the Pakistani militant in custody, the report said.
Mehsud is suspected of having a role in the foiled plot to detonate a car bomb in New York's Times Square in 2010, American officials were cited as saying.
In public statements, the Afghan government has described Mehsud as an insurgent peace emissary.
Referring to Afghan officials' oft-repeated allegations that Pakistani military was supporting Taliban's insurgency against the Afghan government,the report said the Afghan government decided to recruit proxies of its own by seeking to aid the Pakistani Taliban in their fight against Pakistan's security forces.
“And they were beginning to make progress over the past year, they say, before the American raid exposed them,” the Times said.
The US raid angered the Afghan government, and the report said it became the latest flash point in the troubled relationship between Afghanistan and the United States.
The thinking, Afghan officials said, was that the Afghans could later gain an advantage in negotiations with the Pakistani government by offering to back off their support for the militants.
Aiding the Pakistan Taliban was an “opportunity to bring peace on our terms,” one senior Afghan security official said.
Both Afghan and American officials said the Afghan plan to aid the Pakistan Taliban was in its preliminary stages when Mehsud was seized by American forces, the report said, adding but they agreed on little else.
The Times quoted Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for President Hamid Karzai, as saying that Mehsud had been in contact with officials from the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan's intelligence agency, for “a long period of time.”
The Pakistan Taliban leader “was part of an NDS project like every other intelligence agency is doing,” Faizi said. “He was cooperating. He was engaged with the NDS, this I can confirm.”
Faizi did not elaborate on the nature of the cooperation. But two other Afghan officials, when asked by the Times why they were willing to discuss such a potentially provocative plot, said Mehsud's detention by the United States had already been exposed.
“It was first reported by The Washington Post ruining his value as an intelligence asset and sinking their plan," they said.