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Ground rules for US-Taliban talks

When I saw that steady flow of daily media ‘leaks’ from Washington lampooning the Pakistani military and the ISI and making the Pakistani top brass look foolish, I had noted that the Americans didn’t seem to realise what they were getting into. You could anticipate that there was going to be a price to pay. Well, it seems the ‘reverse flow’ has begun in right earnest. The report in the Pakistani media today about the arrival of the new CIA station chief in Islamabad makes hilarious reading.

If there is one thing an undercover agent dreads to think, it is about becoming a media celebrity in the country where is posted. This is the third CIA station chief in Islamabad whose activities and whereabouts have become the stuff of the Pakistani media reports during the period since the Raymond Davis affair in March. A point is coming when Langley might as well consider making the CIA station chief’s post in Islamabad an ‘open’ post. Curiously, today’s report blowing the cover of the newly-appointed station chief is attributed to an unnamed Pakistani official.

But it is the Pakistani media report today on the US-Taliban talks, which makes one roll on the ground with laughter. It seems ISI has nabbed the US’s key interlocutor in the 3 rounds of direct talks with the Taliban since November in locations in Germany and Qatar. The man was identified by Der Spiegel as one Tayyab Agha. Now, it seems Agha has gone ‘missing’ and despite frantic efforts, Americans can’t locate him!

The ISI obviously won’t forgive if the US bypasses Pakistan and messes around with its ‘strategic assets’. This looks increasingly like a merry-go-round. The US tenaciously builds secret contacts with Taliban and begins talking with them and lo and behold, the interlocutor one day simply vanishes into thin air. Worse still, the US is kept guessing all the time if the man by name Agha belonged to the Taliban at all or was in actuality an ISI ‘plant’. The message to Langley from the ISI Hqs is quite transparent: ‘Buddy, do you really want to talk with the Taliban? Come to us then. Don’t try any stunts.’  Conceivably, as time passes, the next ISI advice will be that the US has no option but to talk with the Haqqani network. The message will be: ‘Take it or leave it’.

These are times when the US administration really misses late Richard Holbrooke. Since his passing away, the communication lines with Pakistan progressively got choked. And there seems to be no one in Washington who can do anything about it. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman, joint chiefs of staff, even skipped islamabad as he circumnavigated the world making farewell calls before retirement.

Posted in Diplomacy.

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