Washington: Even as their killer drones strike at ranking members of the al Qaeda linked Haqqani network, US officials secretly met leaders of the group this summer in a Persian Gulf country, in an effort to draw them into talks on winding down the war.
Though Washington has publicly scorned the group which it has blamed for bringing a new level of violence in the Afghan insurgency, Wall Street Journal said senior US officials had a meeting with Haqqani representatives in an undisclosed Persian Gulf country.
The meeting, the paper said, was set up by Pakistan`s Inter Services Intelligence spy agency, a fact that the Americans said confirmed their suspicions of Pakistan`s ties to the Haqqanis.
The meeting took place as the Haqqanis were stepping up attacks in and around Afghan capital Kabul, but before their most high-profile strike to date, the assault on the US embassy which began on September 13.
Quoting a Pakistani official, the paper said Islamabad began facilitating contacts with the Haqqanis late last year and set up the meeting this summer in a Persian Gulf country.
he Afghan government was not invited. WSJ said the US wouldn`t identify the officials who participated, but the Pakistani officials said the Haqqanni network was represented by one of the sons of the terror group`s founder, Jalaluddin Haqqani.
But, US officials said the push to draw Haqqanis into talks had yielded little. The Americans regard the group, which holds sway in three eastern provinces of Khost, Pakhtiar and Ghazni in Afghanistan and which has havens in northern Waziristan, across the border in Pakistan, as at the centre of deteriorating US relationship with Pakistan.
Haqqani fighters are regularly targeted by US drone strikes in Pakistan and American officials have long said that the terror group was beyond reconciliation.
But WSJ said behind-the-scenes American effort reflects the growing realisation that a military campaign alone won`t bring the Haqqanis to heel -- and that compromises are needed to wind down US involvement in Afghanistan.
"We`ve got no illusions about what the Haqqanis ultimately are," said a senior US official. But the "war is going to end with a deal. That`s what we`re trying to make inevitable. The more parties involved in talking, that`s probably going to make for a better deal."
The official declined to divulge what transpired at the talks with the Haqqanis, describing them as "early and not very well defined".
The Wall Street Journal said the State Department wouldn`t comment directly on the outreach to the Haqqanis, spokesman Mark Toner citing previous comments by the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said, "We have a broad range of contacts across Afghanistan and the region....these contacts are preliminary in nature."
In recent times, US officials have been open about the need to crush the Haqqani network and have berated Pakistan for not attacking the faction`s sanctuaries in the tribal areas close to the Afghan border.