Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Talks that could free Bergdahl stalled

Pakistan dodges U.S. envoy

Express Staff Writer

Proposed talks between Taliban leaders and the U.S. government could lead to the release of captive soldier Bowe Bergdahl, but it might depend on the willingness of Pakistan's leaders to come to the negotiating table.

Taliban officials agreed earlier this month to open a "political office" in the Gulf state of Qatar to engage in a possible prisoner swap of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl of Hailey for top Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Washington Post reported the move as the first indication of a willingness by the Taliban to negotiate with the U.S. since a war in the region began more than 10 years ago.

Still, several obstacles to the talks remain, including a lack of trust between Pakistan and the U.S., The New York Times reported on Sunday.

The Taliban, which was originally formed in Pakistan, ruled Afghanistan ruthlessly from 1996 to 2001. The militant group is now active in both countries.

"There really can't be a comprehensive peace process unless Pakistan is part of it [negotiations]," U.S. envoy Marc Grossman told The New York Times.

Grossman, the United States' special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan charged with jump-starting the negotiations, made the remark to the Times in a news conference in Kabul over the weekend after a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The Times reported that Grossman was rebuffed by Pakistani officials he had planned to meet on the same trip.

Bob and Jani Bergdahl, the parents of Bowe Bergdahl, released a prepared statement on Jan. 3 stating support for negotiations to free their son.


"We are optimistic about the possibility of diplomatic discussions between Taliban officials and government officials from other nations, including the United States," they said. "Our only son, Bowe Bergdahl, has been held captive for two and a half years. We hope he will be released as soon as possible. We know that serious discussions among diplomats are the most likely way to make this happen. ..."

Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan cooled after al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Special Forces in Pakistan in May. The incident led to a cut in millions of dollars in support from the U.S. to the Pakistan military, the Times reported last fall.

"The peace process is a comprehensive and large and complicated set of issues," Grossman said.

"In addition, Mr. Grossman said, the Taliban would have to publicly renounce their links with international terrorists before talks could begin," the Times reported.

A Taliban militant interviewed by Newsweek magazine's Daily Beast four months ago said Bergdahl escaped from his captors and after three days was found and recaptured by militants under the command of Mullah Sangin, a senior commander in the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network.

U.S. Adm. Mike Mullen, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of U.S. military forces until September 2011, called the Haqqani network "a veritable arm" of the Pakistan spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.

The Taliban informant said to Newsweek that he first saw Bergdahl on a high mountain trail in North Waziristan on the isolated frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan last year. He said he saw Bergdahl again several months later in the Shawal Valley, a forested area close to Afghanistan's Paktika Province, where Bergdahl was taken prisoner on June 30, 2009.

The U.S. has plans to remove troops from Afghanistan by 2014.

Tony Evans:

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