An all-star delegation from the United States, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CIA Director David Petraeus, special envoy Marc Grossman and a brace of top military officials has just completed a sweeping tour of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.
And, while most of the focus of attention centred on Clinton’s blunt warnings to Pakistan in the wake of recent high-profile attacks on US targets – including the American embassy in Kabul – conducted by the Pakistan-based and Pakistan-allied Haqqani group, there was another side to the US delegation’s visit.
Although Clinton, Petraeus, and the others may have read the riot act to Pakistan’s military and its intelligence service, the Inter-Service Intelligence, the Americans made it clear over and over that they want to strike a political deal to bring the Taliban, the Haqqani group, and other insurgents into a settlement of the conflict. And for the first time in recent memory, Clinton specifically mentioned the idea of an Afghan ceasefire.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
In a lengthy interview with a roundtable of Pakistani journalists, Clinton responded to a question about Pakistan’s concerns over the perplexing US policy of both fighting the insurgents and simultaneously seeking a dialogue, which the United States has recently taken to calling a policy of ‘fight, talk, build.’ Said Clinton:
‘To go back to the question about fighting and talking, I think that some of our Pakistani counterparts are concerned that that won’t – that’s not an effective way to proceed, that maybe what first needs to be done is try to negotiate a ceasefire. That’s just an example of the discussions that are going to be held. And that is something that we want to discuss, we want to hear the views of, but it’s done in the context of overall agreement about where we’re trying to head.’
For years, many analysts of the war in Afghanistan have argued that a unilateral ceasefire by the United States, coupled with an offer to talk to the Taliban and its allies, would be a true test of the Taliban’s willingness to make a deal. Since the start of the war, the Taliban’s principal demand has been the withdrawal of foreign forces. On various occasions, spokesman for the Taliban and its allies, including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar of the Hezb-i Islam party, have hinted that the projected 2014 withdrawal timetable, combined with a ceasefire, might kick-start talks. One prominent analyst, Gilles Dorronsoro, a former scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, has repeatedly suggested that a partial US withdrawal, linked to a ceasefire, is the only route to a meaningful dialogue with the Taliban.
The paradox of the ‘fight, talk, build’ strategy was highlighted when Clinton confirmed, for the first time, that Pakistan helped to broker talks with the Haqqani group.