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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reconciliation efforts with Afghan militants face major obstacle

LA Times Story by Julian E. Barnes, Laura King and Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez reported from Islamabad and King reported from Kabul. Times staff writer Julian E. Barnes in Washington contributed to this report.


Experts say both Pakistan and Afghanistan realize that breaking the Haqqani network's ties with Al Qaeda is a prerequisite to any deal. They question whether it would ever happen.

Amir Rana, one of Pakistan's leading analysts on militant groups, said it's not possible for many militant groups, including the Haqqani network, to completely separate from Al Qaeda.

"What the Haqqani network and the other Taliban groups can offer is a guarantee that they will influence Al Qaeda to not attack U.S. or NATO forces, and a guarantee that their soil would not be used in a terrorist attack against the West," he said. "This is the maximum concession that the Taliban can offer."

Numbering in the thousands of fighters, the Haqqani network has a strong relationship with Pakistan's military and intelligence community that stretches 30 years, back to the time when Pashtun warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani organized mujahedin fighters against Soviet troops in the 1980s. Haqqani has now delegated authority over his network of fighters to his son, Sirajuddin.

The group moves freely between Afghanistan's eastern provinces and its headquarters in North Waziristan, where it has been left untouched by Pakistan's military. Experts believe the Haqqani network continues to provide Al Qaeda leaders and commanders sanctuary there.

U.S. leaders have frequently urged Pakistan to launch an offensive against Haqqani hideouts, recently backing those entreaties with evidence that the network was behind major attacks in Kabul and at Bagram air base, the U.S. facility north of the capital. The government in Islamabad, meanwhile, has brushed aside those demands, arguing that its forces are overstretched by extensive military operations against Taliban strongholds in surrounding tribal areas.

Analysts and former Pakistani military commanders, however, say the real reason that Islamabad has avoided military action against the Haqqani network is that it sees the group and other Afghan Taliban elements as a useful hedge against India's rapidly growing interests in Afghanistan.

Haqqani leaders have yet to signal whether they are interested in starting talks with Karzai's government.

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