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On Wednesday, six British troops were killed when an explosion hit their armored vehicle in Helmand province in southwestern Afghanistan.

The U.S.-Pakistani relationship also is at a low point after a series of incidents, including a U.S. commando raid in May that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and a NATO attack on two border posts in November that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials have accused elements of Pakistan’s military and intelligence service of aiding the Taliban in northwest Pakistan, from where the militants direct attacks in Afghanistan.

Pakistani support is key to the success of the peace process, but “Pakistan-U.S. tensions have stopped Pakistan thinking about reconciliation,” said a Western official. “There is an enormous amount of mistrust all around.”

Current and former Afghan officials describe as frosty their country’s relationship with Pakistan.

“The challenge of reconciliation is that we are implementing confidence-building measures with the Taliban on the other side of the table without having enough confidence between the allies themselves on this side of the table,” Mr. Jawad said.

“And this will benefit the Taliban, because it looks like everyone is rushing to reach out and talk to the Taliban,” he added.

Prisoner transfer

Peace efforts have been further endangered by a delay in Washington to respond to a Taliban demand to transfer five of its top operatives from the U.S. military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Qatar, according to some analysts.

“These delays are strengthening the hands of opponents of reconciliation within the Taliban,” said Michael Semple, a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School.

“The national security of the United States is now far better served by parking these five men in a gilded cage in Qatar, at which point real diplomacy starts, than keeping them in Cuba,” he said. “Further delay in getting the prisoners there will mean that the spring fighting season is upon us before diplomacy is given a chance.”

The Obama administration has been briefing members of Congress on the details of the transfer and has yet to reach a final decision.

Any decision to transfer the detainees would be undertaken in “full accordance with U.S. law and in consultation with Congress,” said Noel Clay, a State Department spokesman.

An Afghan delegation is expected to travel soon to Guantanamo Bay to meet with the five detainees and ascertain the conditions for their transfer. The transfer of the detainees’ families to Qatar is one of the issues.

Despite statements from U.S. officials that reconciliation should be an Afghan-led process, Afghan officials complain privately that they have not been kept in the loop on U.S. efforts to engage the Taliban.

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