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Pak seeks greater role in Afghanistan; US wary

February 10, 2010 15:38 IST

Pakistan has offered to play a central role in resolving the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and hold talks with the Taliban, according to a report in the New York Times.

At a meeting held at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's headquarters in January, Pakistan's army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani made the offer to the top American military officers present, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, the head of Central Command General David H. Petraeus and the commander of American and allied troops in Afghanistan General Stanley A McChrystal, reports NYT.

The NYT quotes a senior American official as saying that Pakistan "wants to be a part of discussions that could involve reconciliation."

Pakistan's proposal is likely to be discussed when National Security Adviser General James L Jones visits Islamabad later this week, says the report. United States has reacted cautiously to Pakistan's renewed interest in seeking dialogue with the Taliban, against which the country's military had launched offensives in Swat and Waziristan last year.

Pakistan's intention of playing a bigger role in Afghanistan is being perceived as an obvious attempt to tip the balance of power in the region in its favour.

Though it has not been articulated so far, the Pakistan government has indicated that it is willing to rein in the Taliban network of Jalaluddin and Siraj Haqqani in exchange for a more active role in restoring normalcy in Afghanistan, says the report. The Haqqani network has been launching terror attacks against NATO forces in southern Afghanistan and Kabul from its strongholds in Pakistan's tribal areas.

The Haqqani network, which has strong ties with the Al Qaeda, enjoys the covert support of the Pakistan army and intelligence. In spite of repeated pleas by the US administration, Pakistan has been reluctant to launch an offensive against the Haqqani network, as it considers these militants as a potential asset once the Afghanistan war is over.

Now, Pakistan is planning to use its control over the Haqqani network as a bargaining chip to assume a more powerful role in strife-torn Afghanistan, to counter India's growing influence there, says NYT.

Till now, Pakistan has managed to resist the US military's demand for a stringent offensive in southern Afghanistan to tackle the 4000-strong militant network of the Haqqanis.

However, General Kayani outlined the Pakistan army's agenda at an interaction with journalists recently, and clarified that the country still considers India as its enemy number one.

The Pakistan army will remain 'India-centric', admitted Kayani, till the many outstanding issues between the two countries were resolved.

Some American military officials are in favour of adopting a softer approach towards the Haqqanis if Pakistan forces them to cut off ties with the Qaeda.

But the US is unlikely to forget that the Haqqani militants helped the Al Qaeda and the Taliban carry out a suicide attack at a Central Intelligence Agency base in southern Afghanistan, which killed seven Americans.

The US military has intensified its drone strikes in North Waziristan, and the Pakistan army, in spite of its misgivings over such strikes, is helping them out with intelligence, says NYT.

While Pakistan desperately seeks a stronger role in Afghanistan to counter India, the United States is watching the developments unfold. Political experts are doubtful about whether Taliban militants, fuelled by support from Pakistan army and intelligence, will be able to shed their anti-American stance and come to the negotiations table with an open mind.