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US double standards on talks with Taliban

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It is right if we do it but wrong if you do. Perhaps this the message Pakistanis are getting from the US ambassador in Kabul, William Wood, when he says that Washington backed the Afghan government's efforts to reconcile with Taliban and other rebels without power-sharing or ceding control of certain areas.

These days the Afghan capital is abuzz with debate about peace talks with the militants, notably former prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the Hezb-i-Islami, who has a multi-million-dollar US bounty on his head. Hekmatyar is believed to be in eastern Afghanistan while leading his faction in attacks against foreign and government targets.

Ambassador Wood did not comment on reports that Hekmatyar was already in talks with government and opposition officials.  However, the recent release of Dr Gharat Baheer, the son-in-law of Hekmatyar, gives credence to the reports of such peace negotiations. Dr Gharat Baheer was arrested in Islamabad in 2002 by Pakistani forces and released after six years in United States’ detention.

Tellingly, US-backed regime of Afghan President Hamid Karzai while offering peace talks has said he would personally go and talk to the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar if he knew his whereabouts or "his phone number."

Ambassador Wood’s statement supporting peace talks with the Afghan Taliban comes at a time when Pakistan remains under US pressure not to have peace talks with the militants in its tribal region along border with Afghanistan.

US that granted the status of a non-NATO ally to Pakistan due to its role as a frontline state in the “War on Terror” since 9/11, has gradually intensified pressure on Islamabad, coupled with a number of paradoxes, especially after the newly elected government concluded peace agreements with the militant leaders in the aftermath of a wave of suicide attacks.

Self-contradictions in the American policy towards Pakistan’s peace talks is also reflected from some of the latest statements. For example, on May 25, 2008, White House spokesman Tom Casey said that the "US will support Pakistan's peace agreements in the tribal areas, provided such pacts curb terrorist violence." However, opposite to this view, next day, NATO’s spokesman Mark Laity in Kabul remarked: "We have seen increased activity of the insurgents in the eastern part of the country due to the de-facto ceasefires."

At the same time, there is another interesting point which shows a paradox of Washington. The US has so far provided Islamabad with about four billion dollars in aid because of its support to “War on Terror,” while other six billions were directly added to the Coalition Support Funds. But American high officials confused this aid as propagating ten billion dollars, given to Pakistan and there is lot of criticism that Pakistan is not doing enough to curb militancy.

However, it have now become evident that Washington by creating pressure on Pakistan, seeks to attack the tribal regions of Pakistan with the sole aim to divert the attention of its public from the weaknesses of its external policy and to keep the European allies in Afghanistan united in the wake of Taliban’s re-emergence as a decisive force in Afghanistan.

There will be hardly two opinions on the fact that Washington's role in constantly urging Islamabad to stick to the military option had been a vital input in making earlier accords between Pakistan government and the militants unworkable. It is well known that the previous deals had fallen through because the government did not live up to its commitments.

Unfortunately, the pressure might be working again now, as there are reports that Islamabad has decided to maintain its military presence in the volatile South Waziristan, something that would inflame local passions against the government, and suspended talks with tribesmen, just a couple of days after the US Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen had met the Pakistani leadership.

It will not be too much to say that in the light of these developments, it seems that National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley's counsel of patience with Pakistan to let it evolve an anti-terror strategy has little substance. It is just for public consumption.

In the face of its backing  of Afghanistan for holding talks with the Taliban to put an end to their resistance, the Bush Administration's reservations about Pakistan's efforts to conclude peace deals with tribesmen presents a clear example of US double standards while dealing with the same issue.

The US message for Pakistan is: Don’t do what we do, but do what we say.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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