The same message was conveyed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Pakistan’s foreign minister Monday in Brussels, along with an appeal for Pakistani cooperation with a separate negotiating effort by the Afghan government.
Douglas Lute, President Obama’s top adviser for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is scheduled to meet with Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, Tuesday morning in Brussels, where Clinton is attending a NATO meeting.
Relations with Pakistan have slowly improved this year, capped by a hard-won deal to reopen transit points from Pakistan for the resupply of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Both sides have emphasized improvements in counterterrorism coordination, while tacitly ignoring Pakistan’s demand for a stop to U.S. drone strikes in Pakistani territory.
But many in the U.S. military’s command headquarters in Afghanistan remain doubtful of Pakistan’s willingness to use its relationship with the Taliban to help forge a political solution to the war and are reluctant to include Pakistan in any of their planning for the drawdown of U.S. combat forces or for a follow-on military presence after 2014.
As a result, an administration official said, Pakistan has been getting an inconsistent message about how serious the administration is about peace talks and a long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan of up to 10,000 troops.
After more than a year of sporadic talks, the Taliban cut off the U.S. negotiating channel in March, accusing the administration of unilaterally changing the terms of a potential prisoner swap. The exchange included five Taliban members being held in the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier held by Afghan militants in Pakistan since 2009.
Even if the Taliban had wanted to re-engage, officials said, administration policy had been largely frozen because of presidential campaign concerns and the military’s concentration on the summer fighting season in Afghanistan.
“Now we’ve had the election, the fighting season is over” in Afghanistan, “and we’re starting to get little reports here and there that the Taliban are coming around,” said the administration official, one of several who discussed the internal debate on the condition of anonymity.
The recent deputies meeting was designed “to make sure everyone explicitly supported” administration negotiating policy, the official said.
A State Department official, speaking separately, said: “I think it’s important to remember that . . . if [the Taliban] wanted to get back into conversations, we’d be prepared to do so.”