By CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty reporting from Dushanbe, Tajikistan
This summer the United States met with the Haqqani terrorist network at the request of Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, according to a senior State Department official.
That official traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Pakistan, told reporters “it was one meeting in the summer, the ISI asked us to have it, the Afghans also knew about it.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton first mentioned the contact with the Haqqani network during a roundtable discussion with Pakistani journalists in Islamabad Thursday.
“We have reached out to the Taliban, we have reached out to the Haqqani network,” she said, “to test their willingness and their sincerity and we are now working among us – Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States – to try to put together a process that would sequence us toward an actual negotiation.”
Clinton called it a “preliminary meeting to essentially just see if they would show up for even a preliminary meeting."
“We believe that there is now an opportunity for us to begin talking but there is no guarantee that the talking will move us toward anything that will result in a peaceful resolution," Clinton added.
Briefing reporters after the round-table the senior State Department official, speaking on background because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issues, said “We have had a lot of informal straws in the wind” to support the Afghan process of reconciliation.
In the meeting with the Haqqanis, the official said, the U.S. message was “very clear:” the door is open to those who can meet red lines set by the Afghans and Americans for any reconciliation: renounce violence, renounce al Qaeda and accept the Afghan constitution’s guarantees for the rule of law and women’s rights.
“Those who want to keep fighting us and the Afghans,” the official said, “we are prepared to fight.”
The key issue in reconciliation, the official explained, is “how you conduct the dialogue.” Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States all agree on the “red lines” and that it must be an Afghan-led process. Pakistan must “play its part to encourage reconciliation and if the U.S. can play a helpful role, the official said, “then we would be available to do it.”
But talking is just one side of a new formulation of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan: “fight, talk and build.”
During Clinton’s trip to Pakistan, the official said, “We talked about the need for steps in days and weeks, not in months and years. We want to inject a sense of urgency in articulating and implementing the squeeze strategy on this side of the border….the situation is urgent.”
That echoed what the Secretary of State herself said at the roundtable:
“In order to get to the talking, you have to keep fighting.”