*KABUL*: White House national security officials are backing an Afghan-led bid to pursue peace talks with the notorious Haqqani Network, alongside the Taliban, in an effort to end the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan, reported *The Washington Times. <link>*
Kabul’s intent to bring reconcilable elements from within the Pakistani-based terrorism group, which has claimed responsibility for some of the deadliest attacks on American and NATO forces in Afghanistan since the beginning of the war in 2001, will not detract from Washington’s strategy to pressure Islamabad to degrade or eliminate the Haqqani group, officials said.
“Our Afghan allies believe that a workable peace process that ends decades of war must include all elements of the Taliban, including the Haqqani Network, willing to accept peace. This war in Afghanistan must be settled among Afghans,” a National Security Council official told The Washington Times on Sunday.
“The United States will support the Afghan government and all parties ready to make peace,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Claims of US support for the Afghan-led plan, announced by President Ashraf Ghani this month, came days after Afghanistan’s top national security official announced that Kabul would be opening talks with the Haqqanis.
“We should negotiate with anyone who is reconcilable,” including elements of the Haqqani Network, Afghan National Security Adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar, told *The Times* shortly after a breakfast roundtable with reporters Thursday at the Afghan Embassy in Washington.
“We will not talk with anyone who is not reconcilable,” Atmar said before departing for scheduled meetings with officials at the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House.
Aside from opening talks with both the Taliban and the Haqqanis under no preconditions, Ghani announced Kabul is now willing to consider allowing the Taliban a political role in the government — even the establishment of a political office for the insurgent group in the Afghan capital — should its leaders be willing to restart peace talks.
It remains unclear whether newly designated National Security Adviser John R Bolton will support an Afghan-led peace road map that includes the Haqqanis.
Bolton, a hawkish former UN ambassador, was tapped last week to replace Army Lt Gen HR McMaster as national security adviser.
Kabul’s decision to include amenable elements of the Haqqani Network, whose namesake Sirajuddin Haqqani remains second-in-command of the Afghan Taliban, does not run counter to the administration’s efforts to force Pakistan to take steps to curtail or eliminate Haqqani Network activities on both sides of the border, officials said.
Ramping up pressure on Islamabad was a key element in the White House’s new South Asia strategy, rolled out by President Trump in August. At that time, Trump renewed US criticisms of Pakistan’s alleged double-dealings with terrorist groups including the Haqqanis, the Pakistani Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the extremist movement responsible for the deadly 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India.
The administration followed up weeks later by withholding millions in foreign aid to Pakistan and suspending indefinitely all military support to the South Asian nation, demanding Islamabad do more to combat the terror groups.
Despite those actions, Pakistan’s efforts continue to fall short of Washington’s demands, the NSC official said.
“Seven months after the president announced the South Asia strategy, we have not seen the kind of decisive and irreversible actions we expect Pakistan to take,” the NSC official said, noting that the US has “suspended security assistance and are considering additional measures”.
The official declined to say what additional measures are being considered by the Trump White House.
In Afghanistan, Washington has “empowered our forces with additional resources and authorities to more aggressively target the Taliban on the battlefield”, in the months since the South Asia strategy rollout, the official said.
“We don’t believe that the war in Afghanistan has a solely military solution, but we do believe that military pressure will play a key element in pushing the Taliban — including the Haqqani Network — to the accept a peace settlement that ends the war and prevents Afghanistan from being a safe haven for terrorists,” the official said.
For its part, Pakistan has praised Kabul’s efforts to restart peace talks with the Taliban, with Pakistani National Security Adviser Nasir Khan Janjua, saying it is time for the US to abandon hopes for a military victory in Afghanistan and pursue peace.