Monday, November 30, 2009

US in back-channel talks with Afghan Taliban

ISLAMABAD: After fighting a bloody war in Afghanistan for more than eight years, the United States appears to have undertaken a re-think of its policy and has started engaging the Taliban in negotiations through Saudi and Pakistani intelligence agencies, highly-placed sources told Dawn here on Monday.

‘We have started ‘engagement’ with the Afghan Taliban and are hopeful that our efforts will bear fruit,’ a source involved in secret negotiations told this correspondent.

He said that four ‘major neutral players’ were engaged with the Afghan Taliban on behalf of the Saudi leadership and the General Intelligence Directorate (GID) of Saudi Arabia and the Pakistani leadership and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).

The GID and ISI have been doing the job on behalf of the US government and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The source said that one of the main objectives of the recent visit to Pakistan by CIA chief Leon Panetta was to assess progress in the back-channel negotiations.

The source said that four leaders were playing the role of mediators on behalf of the Saudis and the Afghan Taliban.

Among them is Abdullah Anas, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden’s mentor Abdullah Azzam who was killed in Peshawar in 1989 along with his two sons. Anas lives in the UK, but maintains close links with the Afghan Taliban and even Al Qaida.

Saudi national Abul Hassan Madni, once a prominent leader of Rabta-i-Alam-i-Islami, has also been in the picture. He lives in Madina.

Abu Jud Mehmood Samrai, an Iraqi who is married to a Pakistani woman, has also been contacted. He was given Pakistani nationality by former president Ziaul Haq for his role in the Afghan war.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, a Pakistani militant leader, is also in the loop. Khalil, who co-founded the Harkatul Ansar, currently heads Hizbul Mujahideen.

He had signed the famous decree issued by Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al Zawahiri in 1998 calling for killing the Americans. Khalil commands respect among both Pakistani and Afghani Taliban and is said to have played a secret mediatory role with Pakistani authorities for peace in the country.

Reliable sources also told Dawn that Mullah Umar, the chief of Afghan Taliban, has nominated his shadow foreign minister, Agha Motasam, to negotiate with the Americans. They said that talks held so far were of a preliminary nature, but may resume on a serious note after Eid.

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