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US in indirect talks with Pak- anchored Haqqani insurgents for Afghan solution: Report

By Samyuktha

London, Sep 7 (ANI): The governments of the United States and Afghanistan have reportedly made separate contacts with the Haqqani network, the most fearsome insurgent group in Afghanistan, though their talks are being described by sources as extremely tentative.

While well-placed Pakistani and Arab sources disclosed that Hamid Karzai's government held direct talks with senior members of the Haqqani clan over this summer, the US contacts have been indirect, through a western intermediary, but have continued for more than a year, the Guardian reported.

A senior Pakistani official, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed, "You wouldn't be wrong," when asked whether talks involving Haqqani, Karzai and the US were taking place, but refused to comment further, citing the sensitivity of the matter.

A senior western official also confirmed the news, saying that the US now considered the Haqqani network to be more powerful than the Quetta Shura, the 15-man leadership council headed by the Taliban's leader, Mullah Omar.

"The Quetta Shura is still important but not as much as people thought two years ago. Its prestige and impact have waned, and they are increasingly less important on the battlefield. Now the military threat comes from the Haqqanis," the official said.

The Haqqanis, who come from Khost in Afghanistan, are anchored in the Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan.

Though a newspaper had reported that the Haqqani network was not a part of the top-level contacts between Kabul and the Quetta Shura, western, Arab and Pakistani official sources confirmed that the Haqqanis sense that a negotiated settlement is the most likely outcome of the conflict, which enters its 10th year today, and are anxious not to be excluded, the paper said.

Speaking of Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has taken over the Haqqani group's military leadership from his ailing father, Jalaluddin, a diplomat involved in the discussions disclosed, "The ice has broken. He realises he could be a nobody if he doesn't enter the process."

"The Haqqanis know they have to make the transition from the IRA to Sinn Fiin," the diplomat added, drawing a parallel with the Northern Irish peace process.

According to several sources, a Haqqani delegation, including Sirajuddin's brother and uncle, visited Kabul accompanied by senior officers from the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI) - the group's sponsor since the start of the conflict - for talks with Afghan officials.

However, the Haqqani side had been noncommittal so far, said a diplomatic source familiar with the talks, adding, "Even though they were sitting opposite each other talking, they were saying: Imagine if we did have talks, what would be the political framework?'"

Meanwhile, different diplomatic sources gave different accounts of the Haqqanis' readiness to take part in a preliminary dialogue with the US.

"There is war-weariness on both sides. Not just in the west," a diplomat said.

Another said the troop drawdown announcement by the US president, Barack Obama, had encouraged the Haqqanis to come forward. "That conveyed a message that the Americans would not be there for ever, and they definitely were in the market for talks, and that opened a door," the source said.

A Pakistani official said that he believed the group was ready to give in to the critical demand from both Kabul and Washington that it must sever their ties to the Al-Qaida. "This is the end of the road for Al-Qaida in Waziristan," he opined. (ANI)

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