Lending Haqqani a Hand

The New York Times is again reporting that allied troops are helping Taliban leaders get to the negotiating table with the Afghan government. But this time they've got the names of the insurgent chiefs, although the Times is withholding them to protect their identities at the request of the White House.  The militants involved are reportedly from the Quetta shura, Peshawar shura and the "Mafia-like" Haqqani network based in Pakistan's tribal areas. Author Dexter Filkins notes that Pakistan might not cooperate with the initiative, reporting that Pakistan's intel service, the ISI—long suspected of having close ties to the Taliban—isn't going to let a peace deal happen. He quotes one Afghan official who says the ISI will "just eliminate" the Taliban participants that aren't touting the company line.

The Jawa Report isn't buying it, though, and Weasel Zippers calls the whole thing "a farce." And Neptunus Lex thinks the insurgents are delaying à la North Vietnam, in order to get the air strikes "off their backs." Joshua Foust sarcastically calls the news "spectacular," pointing to a 1997 Times article "about the exact same thing." Max Boot isn't taking the negotiations seriously, either, but says next summer might present a real "opportunity" for talks, when the Taliban will be "shocked to discover" that the Americans aren't leaving." Allahpundit can't figure out who "thinks a deal is sustainable if Pakistan is cut out of it." 

David Wood hopes "these wisps of smoke do gather into concrete movement toward a settlement" but isn't counting on it. Gawker says it's time to "start preparing an unsatisfying, vaguely-defined celebration." The story "sounds somewhat serious" and "sophisticated" to the blogger at Booman Tribune, which makes him glad, but he's skeptical of why the reports are "leaking out two weeks before the election." 

Zalmay Khalilzad, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and the UN, isn't happy about Pakistan's intransigence on the negotiations and Islamabad's refusal to take on the Taliban more forcefully. The United States and its allies can't dodge Pakistan's role in the Afghan war, Khalilzad writes in a Times op-ed. Khalilzad says a "stark choice" is in order: demand Islamabad's cooperation or else. And Washington should begin preparations to bypass Pakistan as a supply corridor in case Islamabad responds by cutting off NATO's access. "At the same time," Khalilzad writes, we should offer Pakistan some "clear, significant incentives" (mediate disputes between Afghanistan and Pakistan, establish a trade corridor and help crack down on Baluch insurgents). 

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Obama administration is heeding Khalilzad's call. Or maybe only the part about incentives. Adam Entous and Julian Barnes say Washington "is planning to ramp up military support" to Pakistan's army, in the hope that it will induce better cooperation. The administration is proposing $2 billion in aid over the next five years, although it will require congressional approval.