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    South Asia
     Oct 30, 2007
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Pakistan in new Taliban peace process
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - Although the emphasis shifts almost daily, Washington's three-pronged plan to "tame" Pakistan and Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in the region is gathering momentum.

The one prong is represented by former premier Benazir Bhutto, recently returned from exile and entrusted with presenting a hard line against militancy. Last week's bomb attack on her homecoming parade in Karachi, in which more that 140 people

were killed, has temporarily placed her in the background.

Then there is opposition heavyweight Maulana Fazlur Rehman, whose star is in the ascendant at present. He is the key link with Taliban insurgents, and has already made a breakthrough by negotiating American-sponsored "small tribal jirgas" (councils) at which indigenous elements of the Afghan resistance, including the Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, will discuss peace issues. (Asia Times Online broke this development on August 24 - see Talks with the Taliban gain ground.)

The third prong is President General Pervez Musharraf, who, using American largesse, will pump millions of dollars into the tribal regions in an effort to isolate the militancy there.

This is Washington's three-pronged policy to mobilize the masses in the region against militancy. The policy echoes that of 1999-2001, when Washington tried to orchestrate plans with Pakistan against al-Qaeda. The result was the attacks of September 11, 2001, against the United States. And this time too, al-Qaeda can be expected to fight back on all fronts.

Talking to the Taliban
The small jirgas are expected to begin early next month. Farooq Wardak, the Afghan government representative, is minister of state for parliamentary affairs and deputy chairman of the Jirga Monitoring Commission. He will lead a delegation to Islamabad at the invitation of Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao.

This is the first time that the Taliban have been given official representation in a dialogue process sponsored by Washington, and this could be the first step toward an American exit strategy for Afghanistan.

However, Asia Times Online investigations reveal that the more the West hatches plans to isolate global jihadis in Iraq and Afghanistan, the more they look for options to retaliate against the West.

Rehman has certainly emerged as the man of the moment. Only six months ago, when a group of journalists asked the visiting US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Richard Boucher, whether he had met Pakistan's leader of the paliamentary opposition (since resigned), he replied that Pakistan is a country of many million people and he could not meet every "Tom, Dick and Harry".

But since then Rehman has been "honored" with a meeting with Boucher. Rehman is an astute politician and his importance has grown in the past few weeks, especially in the runup to the presidential elections that saw Musharraf win another term, pending approval by constitutional authorities, and the attack on Bhutto.

"I can safely predict he will be the most important person in any future setup," commented Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the federal minister of railways who was previously Pakistan's information minister and who is considered a part of Musharraf's inner "kitchen" cabinet.

In recent days, Rehman has spoken to top Taliban commanders, including Mullah Bredar in Quetta, and succeeded in obtaining tacit approval for a ceasefire, pending the Americans announcing a process for withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Rehman guaranteed that once the Taliban agreed to be a part of the dialogue process through the small jirgas, the US would gradually unfold its withdrawal plans.

Both parties agreed to take steps for peace and reciprocate each other's efforts. The Taliban were assured by Rehman that their participation in the jirgas would be a milestone in which their resistance would be accepted as legitimate.

After the initial jirgas, in which some political settlement would be agreed on, a grand jirga will be convened at which the Afghan nation will press its demands for a national Islamic government and the withdrawal of foreign troops. The Taliban agreed to this schedule. This year, a grand jirga representing hundreds of key figures from Pakistan and Afghanistan was held in Kabul, but the Taliban were excluded, so it achieved nothing concrete.

In the last week of September, US ambassador to Pakistan Anne W Patterson visited Rehman, after which Rehman publicly announced that the US was ready to plan for an exit strategy from Afghanistan once a proper mechanism was in place.

Not so fast
Al-Qaeda ideologues have been watching developments closely, and are working on a counter strategy. The first part of this is to groom a Taliban leadership that will be inflexible on the issue of resistance.

For instance, Sirajuddin Haqqani has emerged as a caliph within the Taliban movement. He is the son of the veteran Afghan resistance figure Jalaluddin Haqqani, and the Western alliance considers him the most powerful commander in Afghanistan. (For an interview with Sirajuddin Haqqani, see Through the eyes of the Taliban Asia Times Online, May 5, 2004.)

Importantly, Sirajuddin's constituency is not the Afghan Taliban but Pakistani jihadis and Arab fighters who will not compromise on their goal of complete victory for al-Qaeda and the Taliban in 

Continued 1 2 

Pakistan's nut that won't crack (Oct 26, '07)

US forced into 'Plan B' for Pakistan (Oct 24, '07)

From Washington to war in Waziristan (Oct 11, '07)

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2. Explosive charge blows up in US's face

3. US soldiers shy from battle

4. 'War on terror' is now war on Iran

5. Why does Turkey hate America?

6. India, Russia still brothers in arms

7. Gulf renamed in aversion to 'Persian'

8. Oil: The sovereignty showdown in Iraq

9.Leave, or we will behead you

10. Hu's 'olive branch' breaks in Taiwan

(Oct 26-28, 2007)


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