President Hamid Karzai has held face-to-face talks with Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of a particularly brutal militant group with ties to al-Qaida.
Al Jazeera, a normally reliable Arab news agency, reported the meeting Sunday. The presidential palace denied such a meeting. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul had nothing to report.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said earlier in the week that that the Haqqanis were probably irreconcilable with the Afghan government and unlikely to give up their al-Qaida ties.
And CIA Director Leon Panetta told ABC's Sunday news show "This Week" he was skeptical because militants had no reason to negotiate seriously.
All who did speak pointed the finger at Pakistan's army and intelligence service brokering the meetings. Al Jazeera said the Pakistan officials accompanied Haqquani to the talks.
Haqqani network is a group high on the CIA's hit list that is believed to have been behind some of the most sophisticated attacks across Afghanistan.
Al Jazeera reporter Zeina Khodr said Pakistan is trying to forge a deal that would safeguard its interests in Afghanistan.
Besides the U.S., Pakistan arch enemy India has sent more troops to its part of Kashmir and eastern Afghanistan to fight militant groups it says Pakistan supports.
"We have seen no evidence that they are truly interested in reconciliation, where they would surrender their arms, where they would denounce al-Qaida, where they would really try to become part of that society,” Panetta said.
The top U.S. intelligence official admitted the American-led counterinsurgency effort is facing unexpected difficulties which leads him to believe no Taliban force would contemplate a power-sharing arrangement in Kabul.
Rumors of the Karzai-Taliban talks have circulated since last Wednesday when President Obama fired Gen. Stanley McChrystal and replaced him with Gen. David Petraeus.
Karzai has expressed willingness to talk with Taliban leaders in the past year but those signals, U.S. officials claim, were intended to pacify local constituents.
Panetta reiterated the narrow goal Mr. Obama set for the Afghan war: “The fundamental purpose, the mission that the president has laid out, is that we have to go after al-Qaida. We’ve got to disrupt and dismantle al-Qaida and their militant allies so they never attack this country again.”
Such comments fly in the face of intelligence estimates of only about 100 al-Qaida terrorists fighting in the Afghan provinces. However, such estimates are about six months old and many foreign fighters may have returned to join the Taliban in the summer battles.
But Mr. Karzai and Pakistani leaders believe that with the United States scheduled to begin a withdrawal next year, it makes sense to work aggressively toward a coalition that would involve elements of the Karzai government and the Taliban, both largely from the dominant Pashtun ethnic group. That has led to nervousness on the part of Tajiks and other ethnic minorities, which fear Pashtun domination.
With casualties rising among NATO forces fighting in the south, Taliban atrocities have too. MSNBC:
In the latest such violence, the headmaster of a high school in eastern Ghazni was beheaded by militants on Saturday, the Education Ministry said. A high school in the same district — Qarabagh — was set on fire the same day.
If the U.S. is spending about $63 billion to ramp up the Karzai government and he negotiates a settlement with the Taliban which would make Pakistan happy, wouldn't the thought occur to Washington to get the hell out. Finally.