NEWS TO NOTE: Pakistani sources report progress in back-channel talks with Taliban

Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan Bureau Chief for Asia Times Online, reports that back-channel conversations with the Taliban during Ramadan, orchestrated by the Pakistani military, have led to a softening of the Taliban’s positions. Shahzad writes,

Asia Times Online has learned that the backchannel talks have to date resulted in the Taliban agreeing to issue a policy statement on their relationship with al-Qaeda. They will clarify that they provided protection to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in line with Afghan traditions of being hospitable.

It was the presence of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan that led the US to invade the country in late 2001 in retaliation for the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US.
The Taliban will spell out their position of decrying international terrorism and of not supporting violence in Muslim countries. Above all, they will clearly state that the Taliban are an indigenous movement struggling against foreign occupation forces with no agenda outside Afghan boundaries.

“This is the first time the situation has reached this level and this is the result of several months of unannounced but untiring efforts by the Pakistan army, with the consent of US military leaders who have very patiently and diligently allowed the Pakistan army to create this environment in which the Taliban feel comfortable, and they are now showing flexibility in their attitude,” a senior Pakistani security official familiar with the talks told Asia Times Online.

See Syed Saleem Shahzad, “Taliban soften as talks gain speed,” Asia Times On-Line (www.atimes.com), September 15, 2010.

Shazad has provided reports on Pakistani military efforts to mediate with the Taliban and other parties to the conflict in Afghanistan. See, e.g., the following articles by The Observer:

“Pakistan Desire to “Mediate” with Taliban Consistent with Earlier Reports of Deal to Support Karzai in Election Settlement,”
February 10th, 2010

NEWS TO NOTE Deal by U.S. with Pakistan Military to Undercut Abdullah in Final Discussions?
November 11th, 2009

Interestingly, he reports in the current article, “Neither the Afghan government nor the Pakistani government is officially aware of the backchannel initiative with the Taliban.”

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