Defiant US interacting with Taliban leaders without ISI consent

Kabul, Oct.20 (ANI): Defiant US commanders leading the NATO military coalition force in Afghanistan have reportedly agreed to hold meetings with senior Taliban commanders outside the Afghan capital without the consent of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in a bid to end the war in Afghanistan faster than earlier scheduled.

According to the New York Times, Taliban commanders are secretly leaving their sanctuaries in Pakistan with the help of NATO troops for these discussions, some of which have reportedly taken place in Kabul.

The meetings are and have been held with the inner circle of President Hamid Karzai, members of the Quetta shura, the leadership group that oversees the Taliban war effort inside Afghanistan and NATO commanders.

The Afghan leaders have also held discussions with leaders of the Haqqani network, considered to be one of the most hard-line guerrilla factions fighting here; and members of the Peshawar shura, whose fighters are based in eastern Afghanistan.

"These are face-to-face discussions. This is not about making the Americans happy or making Karzai happy. It's about what is in the best interests of the Afghan people. These talks are based on personal relationships," an Afghan official said.

The Taliban leaders have left their havens in Pakistan on the explicit assurance that they will not be attacked or arrested by NATO forces. At least four Taliban leaders, three of them members of the Quetta shura and one of them a member of the Haqqani family, have taken part in discussions, according to the Afghan official and a former diplomat in the region.

"When the Taliban see that they can travel in the country without being attacked by the Americans, they see that the government is sovereign, that they can trust us," the unnamed official said.

However, there are concerns that the strategy could backfire by provoking the Pakistanis into undermining any agreement.

With Mullah Muhammad Omar, the overall leader of the Taliban, being cut out of the negotiations, in part because of his closeness to the Pakistani security services, officials said, the potential for the ISI to prevent the negotiations and eliminate Taliban leaders engaging in talks is huge.

The New York Times is withholding the identities of the Taliban leaders at the request of the White House and an Afghan who has taken part in the discussions.

The NYT quoted the Afghan official, as saying that identifying the men could result in their deaths or detention at the hands of rival Taliban commanders or Pakistani intelligence agents who support them.

"The ISI will try to prevent these negotiations from happening. The ISI will just eliminate them," an Afghan official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

According to the paper, in at least one case, Taliban leaders crossed the border and boarded a NATO aircraft bound for Kabul. In other cases, NATO troops have secured roads to allow Taliban officials to reach Afghan and NATO-controlled areas so they can take part in discussions.

American officials said last week that talks between Afghan and Taliban leaders were under way.

The discussions are still described as preliminary, partly because Afghan and American officials are trying to determine how much influence the Taliban leaders who have participated in the talks have within their own organizations.

Even so, the talks have been held on several different occasions and appear to represent the most substantive effort to date to negotiate an end to the nine-year-old war, which began with an American-led campaign to overthrow the Taliban after the 9/11 attacks. (ANI)

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