WASHINGTON - Pakistan’s decision to hold talks with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is the country’s internal matter, the State Department said - without supporting the move.
“We of course are closely following the recent developments and reports. The issue of whether to negotiate with TTP is an internal matter for Pakistan,” State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki told the daily press briefing while responding to questions on Tuesday.
“More broadly, the United States and Pakistan continue to have a vital, shared strategic interest in ending extremist violence so as to build a more prosperous, stable, and peaceful region, but we’d point you to them for any details of what’s happening,” she added.
Asked if Washington backs Pakistan-TTP talks the same way as it does in the case of Kabul-led talks with the Afghan Taliban, the spokesperson said, “It is. The issue of whether to negotiate is a decision that the Government of Pakistan needs to make.”
Closely questioned on the issue, the spokesperson noted “Every circumstance is different. I’m not piling every country and every circumstance into one, so I think I gave you an answer on our position.”
Asked is it not for Pakistan to take a decision to hold negotiations with the TTP, just as is it is up for the Afghans to decide, the spokesperson responded: ”Certainly. That’s why I said it’s up to the Government of Pakistan to determine.”
“I don’t want to make a prediction of an outcome,” she said.
Meanwhile, the United States has sharply curtailed drone strikes on Pakistani territory at Islamabad’s request as it pursues peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, according to US officials.
“That’s what they asked for, and we didn’t tell them no,” a US official told the Washington Post.
At the same time, the Obama administration indicated that it will still carry out strikes against senior Al-Qaeda targets, if they become available, and move to thwart any direct, imminent threat to US persons.
The report says concern about Pakistani political sensitivities provides one explanation for the absence of strikes since December, the longest pause in the CIA’s drone campaign since a six-week lull in 2011, after an errant US air assault killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border post, triggering a diplomatic crisis.
The current pause follows a November strike that killed Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud just days before an initial attempt at peace talks was scheduled to begin.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government accused the United States of trying to sabotage the talks, and the Taliban cancelled the meeting, it was pointed out. Since then, the Obama administration has worked to improve relations with Sharif.
The Post cited administration officials as praising Sharif’s efforts to address serious structural problems in Pakistan and to promote peace in the region.
A senior administration official, in response to queries, denied that any informal agreement had been reached, saying that “the issue of whether to negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban is entirely an internal matter for Pakistan.”
The administration is “continuing to aggressively identify and disrupt terrorist threats in the Afghan war theatre and outside areas of active hostilities in line with our established CT [counterterrorism] objectives and legal and policy standards. Reports that we have agreed to a different approach in support of Pakistani peace talks are wrong,” said the senior official, one of several interviewed by the Post.
The US relations with Pakistan have warmed even as US tensions have worsened with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has accused the administration of plotting against him, both with Pakistan and with the Pakistan-based Afghan Taliban.
While strikes in Pakistan appear to have temporarily halted, they have continued in Yemen, including recent attacks that have reportedly killed civilians.
White House officials say President Obama’s constraints on the drone programme are meant to allow the continuation of strikes against terrorist groups, but under rules that are less likely to incite hostility toward the United States.
“The president has made clear that even as we aggressively pursue terrorist networks — through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners — America must move off a war footing,” said White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden. “We will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence.”