The United States has assured Pakistan of a bigger role in the Afghan reconciliation process. This stands out as the main outcome of the consultations by the ISI chief Gen. Shuja Pasha in Washington on Thursday. The Americans have also reportedly assured that Pakistan’s ‘legitimate interests’ in an Afghan settlement will be accommodated. The bombing of the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and the assassination of Ahmad Wali Karzai, leader of the Kandahar provincial council, drove home the political message how easy it is to derail the US’s direct talks with the Taliban leadership. Thus, the US is reverting to its old stance recognising Pakistan’s centrality.
Evidently, the US senses the urgency to accelerate the talks with the Taliban. The UN Security Council removed on Friday 14 Taliban figures from the sanctions list. Four of them are represented in the Afghan High Council for Peace headed by Burhanuddin Rabbani, but the remaining 10 are not and their names have been withheld. Obviously, US is engaging these 10 figures in direct talks. Also, the US has withdrawn its earlier opposition to the idea of the Taliban opening a representative office abroad in a ‘Muslim country’, which creates the setting for structured talks. Again, the desperate hurry in Washington to give traction to the talks with the Taliban, is palpable.
Two things emerge. One, the Afghan High Council for Peace is being marginalised from the centrestage of reconciliation process. Two, Pakistan has made its point – namely, that it has a central role in the reconciliation process and the US is simply not in a position to keep it out in the cold. The US realises that Pakistan can torpedo its direct talks with the Taliban if it chooses. The US intelligence lost its trump card with the elimination of Ahmad Wali. To be sure, the turnaround in the US position provided the backdrop for Gen. Pasha’s rushed visit to Washington, which is the first high level visit from Islamabad since the Abbottabad operation.