WASHINGTON: Pakistan has agreed to provide safe passage to the Taliban leaders willing to participate in reconciliation talks with the Afghan government, US and diplomatic sources told Dawn.
Separately, a US State Department spokesman said at a briefing that the Obama administration hopes to stay engaged with the Taliban, including the Haqqani network, even though it has designated the group a foreign terrorist organisation.
After Friday’s designation, two US officials told a news briefing in Washington that the issue of providing safe passage to Taliban leaders living in Pakistan was discussed in a meeting between US and Pakistani officials in Islamabad last week.
“And over the coming weeks, we are expecting a series of other important bilateral senior meetings, both in Islamabad and in the US, including in the lead up to the UNGA and in New York,” said the official.
The US official said the United States and Pakistan had formed a working group to facilitate safe passage to Taliban leaders willing to visit Kabul for talks with Afghan officials.
“We have and will continue to engage with Pakistan to ensure that we are cooperating as effectively as possible to eliminate the threat posed to both US and Pakistani interests,” said the official.
But diplomatic sources said that Taliban leaders did not seem very keen on meeting Afghan officials. “They want direct talks with US and Pakistani officials, not with Afghan authorities,” said one of the sources.
While Taliban officials have criticised the US decision to label the Haqqani network a foreign terrorist organisation, a State Department spokesman expressed the hope it would not impede their efforts to seek the release of an American prisoner, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
Spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the US would continue to urge the Haqqani network to release Sergeant Bergdahl.
On June 30, 2009, Sergeant Bergdahl went missing from an Afghan town near the Pakistani border. The Americans believe he is with the Haqqani network.
Asked if the US administration believed Sergeant Bergdahl was still alive, he said: “I do not know that. We can check in after the briefing and get back to you.”
But a spokesman for the Haqqani network told reporters on Saturday that the US soldier was safe in their custody and the designation posed no threat to his life. Mr Ventrell also hoped that the process of reconciliation with the Taliban would continue despite the desig-nation.