The US-led effort to launch peace talks between Taliban insurgents and the Afghan government presents Pakistan with a chance to mend ties with Washington by playing a positive role and giving up a longstanding policy of trying to retain influence in Afghanistan, according to Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the US.
The US, Afghanistan and India accuse Pakistan of supporting the Taliban and providing refuge to its leaders, a charge Islamabad denies. Washington last year began direct talks with the Taliban, seeking to negotiate an end to its 17-year insurgency following the US-led invasion of 2011 in pursuit of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
“For Pakistan, the US focus on withdrawal from Afghanistan offers an opportunity to engage with Washington and to possibly secure US economic and military assistance,” Mr Haqqani said in an interview with the The National during a visit to India to speak on security in South Asia at the Jaipur Literature Festival last month.
The top US negotiator with the Taliban, Zalmay Khalilzad, said last week that a draft deal had been agreed under which American forces would withdraw from Afghanistan in exchange for a ceasefire, the beginning of intra-Afghan talks and a guarantee that the country would not become a haven for terrorists.
Pakistani intervention could help clinch a deal, but only up to a point, according to Mr Haqqani, now a senior fellow and director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington.
“There remains a huge perceptual gap between the US and the Taliban,” he said. “I doubt that Pakistan can help overcome the chasm between America’s and the Taliban’s world views.”
He said Pakistan’s refusal to admit to influence over the Taliban could put it in a difficult spot. “The world sees the Taliban as Pakistan’s protege, and having a protege you cannot fully control makes things complicated. My fear in relation to the US and Pakistan is that both sides could overestimate their respective leverage – the US over the [Pakistani] economy and Pakistan over an Afghan settlement – making a deal more difficult,” he said.
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