Bloomberg News

Ex-Spy Chief Says Pakistan Can’t Deliver Taliban to Talks

September 18, 2012

The U.S. has “unrealistic expectations” about Pakistan’s ability to bring Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar to peace talks, according to a former Pakistani intelligence and military chief.

While Pakistan fully supports Afghan peace talks, it “can’t deliver anybody” to the negotiating table, retired General Ehsan ul Haq said in a brief interview yesterday in Washington.

The Obama administration has followed a strategy for ending the Afghan conflict that involves fighting insurgents, seeking reconciliation with those willing to lay down arms and strengthening the Afghan government and security forces -- all while drawing down U.S. combat forces. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called the approach “Fight, Talk, Build.”

The U.S. should seek to advance the “political track” with the Taliban in the time left before U.S. combat forces withdraw by the end of 2014, said Haq, a former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency and former chairman of the military’s joint chiefs of staff.

While U.S. officials have engaged in behind-the-scenes exploratory contacts with the Taliban and the Haqqani insurgent networks, efforts to establish more formal talks through a Taliban office in Qatar broke down in March. The breakdown involved disagreement over terms for a potential swap of five Taliban detainees in Guantanamo for a U.S. soldier believed to be held by the Haqqani group.

The U.S. should do whatever it can to revive the Qatar process and make good on pledges over a prisoner swap, Haq said.

Pakistan Connections

Afghan President Hamid Karzai openly has sought Pakistan’s help in facilitating peace talks with the Taliban leadership that was ousted from power in Afghanistan after the U.S. military operation began there in October 2001.

The Afghan Taliban operate from the Pakistani city of Quetta and the Haqqani network has rear bases in the Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan, with both groups benefiting from ties to some elements of Pakistani security forces, U.S. intelligence officials have said.

Haq, who served as Pakistan’s intelligence chief from 2001 to 2004, denied that Pakistan provides any such assistance. He said yesterday in the interview that Pakistan’s security forces conducted several raids on the religious school and homes of the Haqqani network’s founder in the Pakistani town of Miram Shah between 2002 and 2004.

“He was not there; he was in Paktia, Paktika,” he said, referring to two provinces in neighboring Afghanistan.

‘Last Resort’

Haq questioned the Obama administration’s decision announced Sept. 7 to blacklist the Haqqanis as a “foreign terrorist organization,” saying “if it had to be done, it should have been done seven, eight, 10 years back.”

“Now when you are into a political track,” he said, declaring groups “terrorists” may be counterproductive to efforts to start talks.

Haq earlier told a group of congressional officials, diplomats, analysts and journalists at the Center for the National Interest, a Washington policy group, that “despite being a key element” of the U.S. strategy, efforts “toward dialogue with the Taliban were started late, probably as a last resort.”

An earlier start to the political process would have prepared the ground for a stable Afghanistan following the withdrawal of NATO combat forces by the end of 2014, he said.

Haq said early, secretive U.S. peace efforts raised “resentment in Kabul and Islamabad for being kept out of the loop, alarm and opposition among the ex-Northern Alliance elements” in Afghanistan who helped oust the Taliban from power.

Although peace outreach “has faltered,” Haq told the group, “the Taliban have suspended it instead of ending it.”

The negotiation “process will have to be pursued more seriously with a sense of urgency even if the prospects for a successful outcome seem remote at present,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Indira A.R. Lakshmanan in Washington at ilakshmanan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net


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