At the time of the leak, Washington had already offered small concessions as “confidence-building measures,” a former senior U.S. official said. They were aimed at developing a rapport and moving talks forward, said a current U.S. official on condition he not be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic.
The concessions included treating the Taliban and al Qaeda differently under international sanctions. The Taliban had argued that while al Qaeda is focused on worldwide jihad against the West, Taliban militants have focused on Afghanistan and have shown little interest in attacking targets abroad.
Other goodwill gestures that were not made public included Aga’s safe passage to Germany, U.S. officials said. The U.S. also offered assurances that it would not block the Taliban from opening an office in a third country, the official said.
Aga slowly established his bona fides with the U.S. officials, who had initial doubts both about his identity and his level of contact and influence with Omar, former and current U.S. official with knowledge of the discussion said. For example, a coded reference to the talks appeared on a Taliban-affiliated website following one meeting, just as Aga said it would, one official said.
Aga sought the freedom of Taliban fighters in U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Air Field, north of the Afghan capital where an estimated 600 Afghans are being held. Still at Guantanamo Bay is former Taliban Defense Ministry Chief of Staff Mullah Mohammed Fazil, Taliban intelligence official Abdul Haq Wasiq and former Herat governor Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa.
Afghanistan’s High Peace Council tasked by Karzai with finding a negotiated settlement with insurgents has requested Khairkhwa’s release.
A former U.S. official familiar with the talks said the loss of the Aga contact dismayed and angered the U.S. side, and further eroded thin trust in Karzai. There is a difference of opinion among U.S. diplomats, military officials and others about how directly Karzai should be blamed, but several officials agreed that the leak was an attempt to torpedo a diplomatic channel that Karzai and his inner circle worried would sideline and undercut the Afghan leader.
As the Afghan war slides into its 10th year and Washington plans to withdraw its combat forces by the end of 2014, a negotiated settlement between the Karzai government and the Taliban has become a stated goal for the United States. It is the centerpiece of efforts by Marc Grossman, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
A member of that High Peace Council, who asked not to be identified by name so he could talk candidly, told the AP that the leaking of the talks reveals the level of mistrust and the lack of coordination among the key players in any eventual peace deal.
He said all the key players — the United States, Afghan government, Afghan National Security Council and the High Peace Council — are holding separate and secret talks with their own contacts within the insurgency.
The United States, for example, has also held secret talks with Ibrahim Haqqani, the brother of Jalaluddin Haqqani, who heads the notorious Haqqani network considered by U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan to be their biggest threat. That contact was confirmed by officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the U.S.
Karzai met with representatives of wanted rebel leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is seeking greater involvement at the peace table and direct talks with the United States, said diplomats in the region.
The flurry of meetings the United States is holding with the various factions in the Afghan conflict has also extended to Pakistan, where the most powerful insurgents have found safe havens.
A month ago, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry and Pakistan’s Army chief of staff Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani met for a marathon eight hours in a Gulf country. Peace negotiations with Afghanistan’s insurgents featured prominently, said both Pakistani and U.S. officials who would not be identified by name because of the secret nature of the meeting.View Entire Story
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