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JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman. — Photo by APP

KARACHI: During a visit to India in 2007, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman had hinted at offering his services as a mediator between the US and Taliban, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

The cables published by the Indian daily The Hindu say that US Assistant Political Counsellor Atul Keshap reported on May 3, 2007, that officials had met on April 27 Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind leader Mahmood Madani and Pandit N.K. Sharma, who claimed close ties with the Gandhi family, after Maulana Fazl visited New Delhi from April 22 to 26.

Mr Madani said that Maulana Fazl wanted to discuss Taliban reconciliation as well as his position in Pakistani politics with US diplomats, but only outside Pakistan.

“Madani explained that Rehman was interested in acting as a go-between for the United States, to negotiate with the Taliban in order to bring them into the mainstream and peacefully into politics in Afghanistan. Madani said many of the Taliban were just caught up in the conflict and did not have a way out of it. Which Taliban members were willing to be involved and under what circumstances would have to be worked out in the negotiations.”

According to the cable, he said that Maulana Fazl could not speak freely in Pakistan, that he would say one thing in Pakistan and something else in India, if asked.

Mr Sharma said it was important that the talks took place outside Pakistan for three reasons: the former US ambassador to Pakistan was well known and very close to (president) Musharraf; the Maulana would jeopardise his position in the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) if he had the discussions in Pakistan and that extremists in Pakistan would threaten him; and finally, India wanted to play a role in the negotiations, which it could not do inside Pakistan. When asked, Mr Sharma agreed that a third country, such as the United Arab Emirates, could also be a viable option.

Mr Madani said Maulana Fazl wanted to become more important in Pakistani politics and that US support of President Musharraf was not helping to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan.

He said the Maulana did not look like he was beholden to the US, but in reality was more moderate than Musharraf. He claimed that the JUI-F was gaining ground, would pick up more power in upcoming elections, and should be allowed to play its rightful role in the Pakistan government.

He said the discussions with the US should be three-pronged — first, Taliban reconciliation; second, Maulana Fazl’s position in Pakistan; and third, elections in Bangladesh.

Mr Sharma said later that the Maulana had met Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, National security Adviser Narayanan, as well as some opposition leaders, including former prime minister Vajpayee, and all of them supported these negotiations.