WASHINGTON: US officials confirmed on Monday a media report that the Afghan government deliberately leaked details of the United States’ secret meetings with a Taliban emissary, scuttling the US-Taliban talks and sending the intermediary into hiding.
Pakistan had also been kept in the dark about the talks, said the original Associated Press report which was later confirmed by senior US counter-terrorism officials who spoke to various US media outlets.
According to the AP report, the Taliban insurgents also wanted to keep Pakistan out of the talks and had asked their American interlocutors not to share details of the meetings with Islamabad.
The United States, however, held separate meetings with the Pakistanis as well to assess how they would react to a possible deal with the Taliban. The Americans believe that senior Taliban leaders are hiding in Pakistan.
As part of these efforts, US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator John Kerry had met Pakistan's Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani in a Gulf country last month.
In this marathon eight-hour meeting, peace talks with Afghanistan’s insurgents featured prominently, the report said.
A US official familiar with the talks said Gen Kayani made a pitch during his marathon meeting with Senator Kerry that Pakistan should take on a far larger role in Afghanistan peacemaking.
The AP report, however, observed that “the United States considers Pakistan an essential part of an eventual deal, but neither the US nor Pakistan trusts the other's motives in Afghanistan”.
According to the report, the US met at least three times with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar’s personal intermediary Tayyab Aga, who has now gone into hiding in Europe fearing for his life. The Afghan government, angry at Washington’s decision to confer secretly with the Taliban emissary, intentionally leaked details of the talks.
The leak that scuttled the talks stemmed from Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s fear that US-Taliban talks would leave him on the sidelines and undercut his authority. The officials said someone in the presidential palace, where Mr Karzai’s office is located, intentionally made the information public.
US officials, however, said that Washington would continue to pursue negotiations, although it had not had direct contact with Mr Aga in months.
The talks between Mr Aga and US officials were preliminary but had begun to show promise. The breakdown of the discussions has ended, for now, the possibility of a brokered agreement between the US and the Taliban.
The US had offered small concessions to the Taliban just before the leak to help move talks forward. These included the US promising not to block the Taliban from opening an office in a third country, allowing Mr Aga to safely travel to Germany and handling the Taliban and Al Qaeda differently under international sanctions. The US and the Taliban also discussed the release of a captured US soldier and Taliban fighters.
A member of the Afghan High Peace Council told the AP that the leak showed just how much distrust existed among the major players in any potential peace deal. He said the US, the Afghan Government, the High Peace Council and the Afghan National Security Council were all conducting secret, uncoordinated talks.