Eyeing an upper hand in a baroque regional power game after the withdrawal of US troops next year,the Afghan government tried to work with the Pakistan Taliban with the ultimate goal of taking revenge on the Pakistani military,a media report said on Tuesday.
The plan of the Afghan intelligence of trying to work with the al Qaeda allies was disrupted after United States Special Forces raided an Afghan convoy that was ushering a senior Pakistan Taliban militant Latif Mehsud to Kabul for secret talks last month.
Mehsud is in custody but the bungled attempt by the Afghan government to cultivate a shadowy alliance with Islamist militants escalated into the latest flash point in the troubled relationship between Afghanistan and the United States, the New York Times said in a report,according to new accounts by officials from both countries.
The Afghan intelligence was seeking to work with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in order to find a trump card in a baroque regional power game that will unfold once the American forces withdraw from the country.
Afghan officials said the thinking behind this plan was that the Afghans could later gain an advantage in negotiations with the Pakistani government by offering to back
off their support for the militants.
Aiding the Pakistan Taliban was an opportunity to bring peace on our terms, the NYT report quoted one senior Afghan security official as saying.
The report said the US caught Afghanistan red-handed after its forces were tipped off to the plan.
Publicly,the Afghan government has described Mehsud as an insurgent peace emissary but according to Afghan officials,the ultimate plan was to take revenge on the Pakistani military.
Pakistan has had an upper hand in the murk of intrigue and paranoia that dominates its relationship with Afghanistan.
Afghan officials have often complained that the Pakistani military intelligence has sheltered and nurtured the Taliban and supported their insurgency against the Afghan government.
The Afghan government no longer wants to be merely the target of a proxy war,according to Afghan officials,and so decided to recruit proxies of its own by seeking to aid the Pakistan Taliban in their fight against Pakistan’s security forces.
The Afghan officials were beginning to make progress in the plan over the past year but the American raid exposed them and disrupted their plans.
Afghan and American officials said the plan to aid the Pakistani Taliban was in its preliminary stages but for the US,it exposed a new level of futility in the war effort.
The report said not only has Washington failed to persuade Pakistan to stop using militants to destabilise its neighbours,but this failure appears to have persuaded Afghanistan to try the same thing.
Worse still,for American officials,was the Afghans choice of militant allies.
Though the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban are operationally distinct,they are loosely aligned. The Pakistani fighters pledge allegiance to Mullah Muhammad Omar,the founder of the Afghan Taliban.
In the estimation of American officials,support for one invariably bleeds into assistance for the other,the report said.
The Pakistani Taliban shares its base in Pakistan’s tribal belt with several Islamist groups,including the remnants of Al Qaeda’s original leadership, that have tried to mount attacks in the West.
The Pakistani Taliban have also showed a willingness to strike beyond the region,unlike their Afghan counterparts.
Mehsud is suspected of having a role in the foiled plot to detonate a car bomb in Times Square in 2010,US officials said.
Another worry that they have is that the Afghan actions would give credibility to Pakistani complaints that enemies based in Afghanistan presented them with a threat equivalent to the Afghan insurgency.
What were they thinking? said one American official of his Afghan counterparts. American officials have said it was not clear how much help the Afghans could have provided to the Pakistani Taliban.
An Afghan official said,through their plan to work with the Pakistan Taliban,they wanted to…foster a mutually beneficial relationship. We’ve all seen that these people are nobodies proxies.
Another Afghan official said the power games in the region dictated the need for unseemly alliances,given that the US too had relied on some of Afghanistan’s most notorious warlords to fight the insurgency there. Everyone has an angle, an official said.
That’s the way we’re thinking. Some people said we needed our own.
Aimal Faizi,spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai,said Mehsud was in contact with officials from the National Directorate of Security,an intelligence agency,for a long period of time.
Mehsud was part of an NDS project like every other intelligence agency is doing,Faizi was quoted as saying.
Afghan officials said the government is not naïve enough to believe it could turn the Pakistani Taliban into a reliable proxy.
After months of negotiations with Mehsud,the NDS struck an initial deal that would involve Afghanistan not harassing Pakistani Taliban fighters sheltering in mountains along the border if they did not attack Afghan forces,the report said.
An American official said there was absolutely no way the Afghans would be encouraged to work with the Pakistani Taliban or do anything that could result in attacks on Pakistani forces or civilians.