ISLAMABAD: Pakistan cautioned the United States on Monday that its peace talks with the Taliban might not make headway without clarity on ‘reconcilables’ and without taking Islamabad and Kabul on board about dialogue with the Afghan insurgency leadership.
US Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Frank Ruggiero in his meetings at the Foreign Office was rather curtly told that American unwillingness to share information on the talks was against the spirit of rebuilding modicum of trust after a spate of bruising incidents beginning with the May 2 Abbottabad raid on Osama bin Laden compound.
In a statement on Mr Ruggiero’s meetings, the Foreign Office said: “The importance of clarity and strategic coherence as well as transparency to facilitate the Afghan people and the Afghan government in the process for peace and reconciliation” was underscored.
Mid-ranking US State Department and CIA officials have met Taliban representatives led by Tayyab Agha, a personal aide of Mullah Omar, at least thrice since January 2011 – once in Qatar and twice in Germany.
On Saturday, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates stated officially about direct talks with Taliban representatives, but the confirmation came only after President Karzai had publicly spoken about the meetings.
Secretary Gates claimed the interactions were at preliminary stage that were not likely to progress till winter, probably around the time when the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan is held in December, but observers say the official American acceptance of being in talks with the Taliban was in itself significant and denoted they were hopeful about the outcome.
Although Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has acknowledged Pakistan’s legitimate concerns about reconciliation in Afghanistan and the criticality of its involvement in the process, diplomatic sources regret that the US was not ready to take Pakistan along.
Responding to the criticism he confronted at the Foreign Office, Mr Ruggiero was quoted in the Foreign Office media statement as having reiterated the importance the Obama administration attached to the ‘Core Group’ comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US “in the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of reconciliation and peace”.
The core group is meeting again in Afghanistan on June 28 – the third time in a series of meetings that started a day after Osama bin Laden was killed in the Abbottabad raid. Alongside the trilateral mechanism, Pakistan and Afghanistan have set up a joint commission on peace and reconciliation which recently held its inaugural session in Islamabad and its second tier comprising officials would be meeting soon to discuss modalities for cooperation.
Pakistani officials sounded critical over lack of clarity about who the US considered as reconcilable. “On one hand they are talking to Mullah Omar’s aide, but on the other the Taliban leader is on the list of the five men that they (the Americans) want to be taken out,” an official, asking not to be named, said, adding that Pakistan would also like to hear if there could be any space in the political dialogue for the Haqqani network, whose operational commander Sirajuddin Haqqani is also on the list of five most wanted terrorists.
A US official, speaking about Mr Ruggiero’s meetings, said a whole range of issues in relations between the US and Pakistan, including Afghan peace and reconciliation, was discussed.