Exclusive: Long a spoiler, Pakistan starts behind-scenes aid to U.S.-Taliban talks

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Exclusive: Long a spoiler, Pakistan starts behind-scenes aid to U.S.-Taliban talks

Exclusive: Long a spoiler, Pakistan starts behind-scenes aid to U.S.-Taliban talks

WASHINGTON/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistan, lengthy at odds with the United States over the struggle in Afghanistan, has begun to play a behind-the-scenes however central position in supporting U.S. peace talks with the Afghan Taliban, together with through facilitating shuttle to negotiations, U.S. officers and Taliban assets informed Reuters.

The Pakistani help, which has no longer been reported in such element earlier than, additionally contains exerting force on Taliban leaders who fail to cooperate, together with through detaining individuals of the militants’ households, the insurgents say.

Pakistan’s position within the peace negotiations is a refined one, with Islamabad searching for to steer clear of demonstrating the type of vast affect over the Taliban that Washington has lengthy accused it of getting. Sources warning its assist may well be transient.

The Taliban additionally are not looking for to seem beholden to Islamabad, which has lengthy denied U.S. accusations that it supplies secure haven and help to insurgents as a manner to maintain affect in neighboring Afghanistan right through its greater than 17-year-old struggle.

U.S. President Donald Trump has again and again signaled his purpose to wind down America’s longest battle, mentioning this week in his State of the Union cope with that “great nations do not fight endless wars.”

One senior U.S. legitimate, who declined to be known, stated of Pakistan’s position within the talks: “We know it just wouldn’t be possible without their support.”

“They’ve facilitated some movement and travel to the discussions in Doha,” the legitimate stated.

Trump’s management has speeded up talks for a political agreement in Afghanistan. U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad held six days of talks – possibly the best to date – with the Taliban in Doha final month and is due to meet Taliban representatives once more on Feb. 25.

Speaking after Reuters reported the shift, Khalilzad showed at a discussion board in Washington that “there is a positive change in recent times” through Islamabad.

“Pakistan has tried to facilitate talks between the Taliban and the United States and also favors inter-Afghan dialogue including between the Taliban and the (Afghan) government,” he stated.

Taliban assets stated Pakistan’s position in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating desk used to be instrumental. In one example, Islamabad despatched a message to the militants thru non secular leaders that that they had to communicate to the United States or chance a cut-off in ties.

They detained Taliban individuals’ households as a manner to force them, a Taliban chief informed Reuters.

“I haven’t seen Pakistan so serious before,” the senior Taliban chief stated.

The Taliban chief, who declined to be known, stated Pakistan had stored “unprecedented pressure” at the militants and their shut family members during the last few months.

“They made it clear to us that we (Taliban) have to talk to the U.S. and Afghan government,” the Taliban chief stated.

To be certain, present and previous U.S. officers nonetheless are extremely skeptical of Islamabad and don’t see any steps through Pakistan that might no longer be simply reversed.

Washington seems for now to be sticking to a general freeze in U.S. help to Islamabad imposed over a yr in the past over its suspected reinforce to the Taliban. Trump on the time accused Islamabad of rewarding previous U.S. aid with “nothing but lies & deceit.”

“There’s some self-interest obviously involved here … I would be wary of taking that and extrapolating off that and saying they’re now on board with the peace process,” stated Jason Campbell, who used to be the Pentagon’s Afghanistan nation director till final yr and is now on the RAND Corporation think-tank.

Afghanistan’s envoy to Washington, Roya Rahmani, stated that any Pakistani shift in conduct used to be nonetheless no longer obvious from Kabul, which has but to take part within the talks.

“For us, it still remains to be seen,” she informed Reuters in an interview.

PULLOUT PRESSURE

Pakistani assets recommend that the driving force in the back of their nation’s reinforce for the talks isn’t U.S. aid however rising considerations over the regional financial shockwaves that might apply an abrupt U.S. pullout from Afghanistan.

Those considerations had been bolstered through Trump’s wonder choice in December to withdraw utterly from Syria, regardless of objections from the Pentagon.

There are handiest about 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, however their presence guarantees a steady waft of U.S. monetary help to Afghanistan.

Islamabad, working in need of foreign currencies reserves and in talks with the International Monetary Fund over what could be its 13th bailout because the 1980s, says it can’t come up with the money for to see Afghanistan slide into chaos simply as Pakistan is attempting to draw in international traders to shore up its personal economic system.

“That is our main worry in all of this,” stated a senior legitimate who’s intently fascinated with cross-border family members.

“We have enough economic issues of our own to deal with already.”

One of essentially the most notable public indicators of Pakistan’s willingness to aid the negotiations used to be the discharge of Taliban chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

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FILE PHOTO – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (R) speaks with U.S. particular envoy Zalmay Khalilzad (third L) all through a assembly on the Prime Minister’s workplace in Islamabad, Pakistan, on this handout picture launched January 18, 2019. Press Information Department (PID)/Handout by means of REUTERS

Now the newly appointed leader negotiator, Baradar is anticipated to fly from Pakistan to attend the following spherical of negotiations in Doha on Feb. 25.

Dan Feldman, a former U.S. particular consultant for Afghanistan and Pakistan, stated he believed Washington used to be nonetheless hesitant to transform too hopeful about Pakistan’s trade in posture.

“There is cautious appreciation for the fact that Pakistan has seemingly done more than before to be helpful,” Feldman stated, earlier than including that it didn’t “suggest a sea change in Pakistan’s position.”

Reporting through Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali in Washington and Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar, Pakistan; Additional reporting through James Mackenzie in Islamabad and Jonathan Landay and Mohammad Zargham in Washington; Editing through James Dalgleish and Grant McCool

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