Zardari secretly met senior Taliban operatives: report

Rezaul H Laskar

Islamabad, Jan 18 (PTI) President Asif Ali Zardari hada secret meeting with a group of senior Taliban operatives inApril last year during which he expressed the Pakistangovernment''s "support for their mission", a researcherstudying developments in Afghanistan has alleged.

Matt Waldman, a fellow at the Carr Centre for HumanRights Policy at Harvard University, first made the claim in acontroversial paper he published last year.

He recently repeated the claim to The News daily inLondon, saying it was corroborated by a "very senior Westernofficial closely linked with the US-led NATO military mission"in Afghanistan.

Waldman refused to name this Western official but saidhe was aware of the meeting between Zardari and the Talibanoperatives in a "secret prison" in Pakistan in April 2010.

He contended that the official was certain that themeeting took place and that Zardari had participated in it"possibly on the insistence of Pakistan''s powerful secretservices".

He said he was contacted by the official withconfirmation of the meeting after he published his report "Thesun in the sky: The relationship between Pakistan�s ISI andAfghan insurgents".

The Pakistan government has already dismissedWaldman''s claims.

In a new report for the Royal United ServicesInstitute, Waldman calls for negotiations with the AfghanTaliban, saying the West should accept the reality of themilitants.

He says that efforts to defeat the Taliban areunlikely to succeed.

"We have to question the sustainability of a policywhich requires a very large number of foreign troops with verylarge logistical requirement, and indeed we should considerthe challenges there are in establishing effective governancein areas where the Taliban have been pushed back and certainlythat has proven very difficult," he said.

The Taliban have a "difficult and complex relationshipwith the Pakistani state", he said.

"They are resentful of the fact that the ISI hassignificant influence over their movement, but theyacknowledge that they need sanctuary," he said.

Waldman also said it was in the US interest to work toimprove relations between India and Pakistan if it wants tosee progress in Afghanistan.

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