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Pakistan hedges on Taliban as West seeks talks

At the Asia Times, Syed Saleem Shahzad explains how the fruitless US/NATO attempts to conduct high-level negotiations with the Taliban and President Obama's "dithering" over the path forward in Afghanistan have impacted the Pakistani military calculations. According to Shahzad, the Pakistani Army has opened channels to al Qaeda and has put off pursuing the Taliban into North Waziristan:

The original instigators of the deal, Western capitals, are silent spectators now while Pakistan's military establishment (mis)reads the situation in the perspective of a withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. It is preparing a contingency plan under which all the major players in the Taliban-led insurgency will be invited for talks.

The army has already approached powerful commanders in the Lashkar-e-Zil (Shadow Army) section of the Afghan resistance. The message is that in the event of a withdrawal of foreign troops, the Pakistan military should be viewed as a friend, as it is in no way opposed to the Muslim resistance.

The message was sent to al-Qaeda through commander Ilyas Kashmiri, and to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar through his commanders, Abdul Ghafour, Sirajuddin Haqqani and Hakeemullah Mehsud. The message referenced a recent statement by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, "I have offered London as a venue in January. I want that conference to chart a comprehensive political framework within which the military strategy can be accomplished. It should identify a process for transferring district by district to full Afghan control and set a timetable for transfer starting in 2010."

Militant sources who spoke to Asia Times Online interpreted Brown's speech as an indication that international support for the "war on terror" is waning and that it would not be possible for the US to operate alone.

A perception of this wavering has also influenced the Pakistani military. An armed forces spokesperson claimed recently that the army had reached the headquarters of the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan after a month-long campaign, and taken control of all key positions. The next step, under pressure from the US, was to have been to move into neighboring North Waziristan, the purported headquarters of al-Qaeda and the largest Taliban-led group, the Haqqani network.

However, the military, given the signals coming out of Britain, Italy, France and Canada, and the dithering of US President Barack Obama over sending more troops to Afghanistan, is not prepared at this point to extend its operations [emphasis mine].