Afghanistan has yet to contact Taliban leaders who may be willing to join peace talks, and will need Pakistan's help in bringing them to the negotiating table, a senior Afghan official said Monday.
Deputy foreign minister Jawed Ludin's comments hint at the difficulties behind the U.S.-supported drive to engineer an end to the war, as well as the role neighboring Pakistan _ long accused by critics of aiding the insurgency _ looks likely to have play for it to succeed.
Ludin spoke after two days of talks in Islamabad with Pakistani officials and U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Marc Grossman. The main agenda was "Afghan reconciliation" _ the preferred term in all three countries for the still nascent peace process.
After fighting the Taliban for 10 years in Afghanistan, the United States now wants to cut a deal with them to enable it to leave the country.
The Taliban, which have support in the south of the country, publicly insist they have no interest in negotiating peace so long as foreign troops occupy Afghanistan.
Ludin said the government had reached out to mid- and low-level insurgent commanders in Afghanistan, but that the leaders _ which he hinted were in Pakistan, in line with the assessment of U.S. officials _ were not yet part of the process.
"Really the majority of the ones that really need to be brought into the peace process are the ones we need to establish contact with," he said. "We need to identify who we can reconcile with and then how we approach them and then persuade them to join the peace process."
Pakistan's army and spy service have historic links with the Taliban and are believed by many analysts to maintain contact with its leaders. But they generate deep suspicion in the United States and among many Afghans, and have their own interests in any negotiated outcome, chiefly to ensure that whoever is in power is hostile to its regional rival, India.
"We would depend on the cooperation that Pakistan can extend to us in terms of encouraging those elements in the leadership of the Taliban who could potentially be brought over to the reconciliation process," he said.
Grossman said that Pakistan and the United States were committed to resolving their differences, including a spat over the recent travel curbs imposed on U.S. diplomats in the country. Washington and Islamabad's always difficult alliance is under strain following the American raid to kill Osama bin Laden.