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Façade diplomacy: US seeking Pakistan's help to start negotiations with Taliban

Published time: December 10, 2013 15:00
US Vice President Joe Biden (L) speaks in front of a portrait of slain Pakistani former premier Benazir Bhutto, during a joint press conference with Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani (R) in Islamabad on January 12, 2011. (AFP Photo)

Any negotiations with the Taliban will probably be a mere facade, defense analyst Ivan Eland told RT, because Pakistan desperately wants influence in a post-US Afghanistan, for which it has to support the Afghan Taliban, who are winning the war.

Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute, Ivan Eland, also predicted that drone strikes will inevitably continue as long as possible, despite the fact that more Islamist extremists are created this way than are actually eliminated.

RT: This is the first visit of a Pentagon chief to Pakistan in four years. Can the cracks be smoothed over while the drone strikes continue?

Ivan Eland: The Pakistanis look the other way. They protest sometimes about the drone strikes, but they look the other way, so I think the US relationship with Pakistan is always on the knife’s edge. And of course the US pulling out has put a new element into that, but I think Hagel is there to try and negotiate. And I think, actually, US-Pakistani relations are getting better, whereas US-Afghan relations, with Khamid Karzai, are probably worse now than they have been.

RT: Is America really interested in helping relations or are they looking at the bottom line of supplying troops in Afghanistan through Pakistan?

IE: I think they want to withdraw their troops, but they also want a continuing presence in Afghanistan. And of course they still need the Pakistanis to help out, hopefully by pressuring the Taliban for the peace negotiations. But I doubt that's going to happen, because the Taliban are winning the war, and they know that most of the US forces at least are going to be leaving - that's a big inhibitor for peace negotiations no matter how much pressure the Pakistanis put on them.

That's about the only card the US has to play in Afghanistan anymore, trying to get the Pakistanis to pressure the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government. You know, the US could apply more aid or threats or whatever, but it's still going to be a tough go to get the Taliban to negotiate with the government.

Supporters of Pakistan's banned Islamic group Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) carry banners and shout anti-US slogans during a protest against US drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal region, in Peshawar on November 29, 2013. (AFP Photo/A Majeed)

RT: In October, the family of a woman killed by a drone strike, including a little girl, testified before the Congress, but there was little reaction from lawmakers, why?

IE: If the Pakistanis don't pressure the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government then the US government is kind of overlooked. I think there's going to be a heightened civil war. Of course the drone strikes in Pakistan always, from day one, have been hitting targets that the Pakistani government wanted to hit. That is the Taliban, which is different and fights the Pakistani government. The US has been hitting them as well as the Afghan Taliban which the Pakistanis support. So it's a very convoluted situation.

Really, when it comes down to it, Pakistan which is supposed to be a US ally is also the principal supporter of the Afghan Taliban which is fighting the US supported government. So the US situation with Pakistan has always been extremely complicated, including the drone strikes. And I think the drone strikes will continue as long as the US can do so, unfortunately.

RT: Given the mistrust that already exists between the two countries, including allegations of Pakistani official support for terrorism and the killing of Bin Laden in the country. How much more strain can the relationship take?

IE: I think the US withdrawing from Afghanistan eases the tension a little bit in one respect, but on the other hand the US is getting more desperate to get some sort of a settlement, so when it does withdraw the most part of its troops, or maybe even all of them, if Khamid Karzai doesn't play ball with the US, then you could see more pressure from the US on Pakistan to get the Afghan Taliban to negotiate.

Pakistani Sunni Muslim supporters of hard line pro-Taliban party Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Nazaryati (JUI-N) raise their hands during a protest rally in Quetta on November 18, 2013 following sectarian clashes in Rawalpindi. (AFP Photo)

So in one sense the US pulling its troops out may help out because Pakistan desperately wants influence in a post-US Afghanistan, so it is still supporting the Taliban, but they are also under pressure from the US to get the same Afghan Taliban to negotiate. Maybe the solution for Pakistan is to just pretend that the Taliban is negotiating.

Really, the Taliban will have great influence in the post-US Afghanistan, no matter what I think. These negotiations – if there are any - any meaningful negotiations will probably be somewhat of a facade I think.

RT: What choice does the US have if Pakistan fails to tackle the Taliban and other militant groups except to launch drone strikes?

IE: I think it's a bit embarrassing. One of the problems of the drone strikes is that they do kill Al-Qaeda people, but they also kill innocent Pakistanis. The same is true in Afghanistan, of course. This is a problem - that you may be creating more terrorists than you are killing. And this woman is an emblematic of that. And I don't think anybody in the US, including members of the Congress at that hearing, really want to face up to the fact that the drone wars may be really unsuccessful. They are tactically successful in killing some militants, but they are strategically a disaster, because they are creating more animosity and therefore generating more Islamic terrorism – and not only for the US, but I think for the other parties involved as well.