August 3rd, 2011
07:42 AM ET

Questions linger in Afghan peace process

Islamabad, Pakistan - Top diplomats from the U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan claim to be gaining ground with plans to reach a peace deal with the Afghan Taliban, but revealed little about their progress.

The trio of diplomats met here in the federal capital on Tuesday for the fourth meeting of the so-called Corp Group, established to map out a political settlement between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban, a strategy Washington now supports.

However, Afghanistan's deputy foreign minister said Kabul has yet to establish contact with key leaders of the Taliban.

"We have a pretty good understanding of the Taliban leadership," Jawed Ludin said. "`We need to identify who we can reconcile and how, and convince them to join the process. That¹s the challenge."

The pace of the reconciliation process signals a potentially lengthy and complicated road that could add to concerns about security in Afghanistan and U.S. troop reductions that began last month.

In June, U.S. President Barack Obama announced plans to reduce the roughly 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan by 10,000 this year and another 20,000 by September 2012.

A senior Pakistani military official said Washington was making overly positive assumptions about Kabul¹s ability to maintain security in Afghanistan with reduced U.S. troop levels while striking a deal with the Taliban.

"Will there be good governance?" said the official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue. "You can train 300 or 400,000 soldiers in a short time, but will the Afghan National Army have good leadership?"

The official said an offer was on the table for Pakistan to play a bigger role in the Afghan-led reconciliation process. Washington and Kabul had not shown much interest, the official said.

The apparent snub highlights lingering mistrust between the U.S. and Pakistan.

The already tense relations between Islamabad and Washington soured after the U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden¹s compound in May.

U.S. officials openly questioned whether Pakistan's spy agencies helped hide bin Laden. They also turned up the volume on concerns about Pakistan¹s alleged ties to militant groups that are fueling the insurgency in Afghanistan.

Islamabad hit back by asking scores of U.S. military trainers to leave the country. Last month they slapped U.S. diplomats with travel restrictions within Pakistan.

On Tuesday U.S. Special Envoy to Pakistan Marc Grossman insisted the two countries remained important allies with many shared interests.

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