US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, third from left, meets with Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zidari, right, alongside US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman, left, and US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter, second from left, in Islamabad on Oct. 21, 2011. – AP Photo

WASHINGTON: The United States and Pakistan agree on a framework for holding direct talks with the militants and are now working to operationalise the plan, says the US State Department.

At a briefing for the press corps that accompanied Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Islamabad last week, two State Department officials explained what the secretary meant when she said in her recent interviews that the US and Pakistan had agreement on 90-95 per cent of issues they confronted.

They said the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan had already an understanding on holding a “tri-logue” with the Taliban militants.

They also agree that this has to be Afghan-led and has to be at the pace and scope that the Afghans decide on.

“That Pakistan has to play its part in this; it has to encourage reconciliation. And that as efforts are made at reconciliation, if the US can play a helpful role, that we would be available to do that,” said one official.

After agreeing on this framework, the US and Pakistan were now working on the need to operationalise it. “What does it mean? And particularly in the context of the awful, horrific experience that the Afghans had with the death of President Rabbani ... we’re all working off the script that is going to protect against that kind of thing happening again,” the official said.

Operational details like where to hold the dialogue, who to talk to and in what form and formats and for how long were now being worked out, the official added.

“We needed to start with ensuring we were all on the same page in terms of the framework.” The two officials explained that in their meetings with the US delegation, which included the CIA and military chiefs, Pakistani leaders kept referring to the resolution passed by the all-parties conference on the proposed talks with the militants.

“What does the all-parties conference mean to them? It means that every party in Pakistan got together and agreed that reconciliation, if it can be done right and if it is Afghan-led and if it meets the red lines, is in Pakistan’s interests,” said the State Department official.

“And so as they seek to work with Afghanistan and with us on this, what we heard in general, was that they need to keep the Pakistani body politic together on this agenda. And they think that they have a framework for doing that with this agreement of the all-parties council,” the official added.

The two officials disagreed with a suggestion that the Pakistanis were refusing to take military action against the militants because they had failed to produce results.

“The conversation that we had was very much on the lines that we have to squeeze them,” said one State Department official.
“But we also have to have a track for talking for those who are willing to come in off the battlefield within the parameters that the Afghans have set.

“So I don’t think there’s any disagreement between us, that we have to fight and squeeze even as we talk.”

Another senior State Department official said that Pakistan also recognised that there were militant safe havens inside its territory and the two sides needed to work together to deal with them.

In an interview to The Washington Post, Gen. Scaparrotti noted that until last year he enjoyed excellent cooperation with the Pakistani military and toured the battlefield with his counterparts from Pakistan along both sides of the porous border.

After the US raid on the Bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, “this relationship is not what it was, say, a year ago,” he said. “My intent is to start rebuilding this on a mil-to-mil basis, at least.”

A week before Secretary Clinton’s visit to Islamabad, Gen. Scaparrotti met top Pakistani military officials and pressed for re-establishing “routine daily communication” and discussions of how to deal with insurgents.

“If we work together, we can have a joint effect on [the insurgents], and we need to do so,” he said.

Meanwhile, former State Department official Vali Nasr, who was a senior adviser to the late US special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrook, noted that the Obama administration clearly wanted to re-engage Pakistan.

“Every one of our assumptions about our timetable of getting out of Afghanistan, our success on the ground with military operation has been predicated on the kind of at least minimal cooperation we have had with Pakistan over the past two years,” he told the US National Public Radio.

“If that cooperation ceases to exist and our relations get any worse than they are currently, it’s very difficult to see how the United States can meet its deadlines in order to be able to withdraw from Afghanistan.”