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Pakistan Offers to Mediate U.S.-Taliban Talks

(AP/Inter Services Public Relations)
Pakistan has offered to mediate talks between U.S. officials and members of Afghanistan's Taliban movement aimed at ending the conflict in the central Asian country, a senior Pakistani government official told CBS News' Farhan Bokhari Wednesday.

Commenting on a report published earlier today in The New York Times, the Pakistani official confirmed the offer made by General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani (Pakistan's army chief of staff) during a visit last month to NATO headquarters in Belgium.

(Left: Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani presides at a meeting of top military commanders in Rawalpindi, Pakistan in this October 2009 file photo.)

"Pakistan is best-placed to be a facilitator of a conciliatory move," said the official, who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity. "That is what we have now told our American friends.

"Pakistan has the clout to try to bring some otherwise irreconcilable elements to the table," the official added.

Last week, General Kiyani met with journalists from a few selected Western news organizations (including CBS News) for his first-ever on the record press briefing at the Pakistan army's heavily-fortified headquarters in Rawalpindi, just outside Islamabad.

The high point of General Kiyani's briefing was a signal to the U.S. and its NATO allies, offering a role for Pakistan in training recruits to a newly-planned national army and national police force for Afghanistan.

Following General Kiyani's briefing, Pakistani officials said that country's role was likely to be significant, as it had established close links in the past with Islamic militants, including the Taliban during their rule of Afghanistan. (Pakistan was one of just three countries which recognized the Taliban regime — the others being Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — and maintained an embassy in Kabul.)

Following the 9/11 terror attacks, Pakistan's former military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, abandoned his country's closely-built ties with the Taliban movement.

Responding to news of Pakistan's offer to the U.S., Western diplomats in Pakistan expressed mixed reaction. Some warned that the offer of support to the U.S. was unlikely to gain much momentum, given Washington's suspicions over the Pakistani security establishment's continued links with Taliban militants.

For months, Western officials have privately complained about an inadequate push by Islamabad against members of the network of notorious Afghan warlord Sirajuddin Haqqani. Known to some as the "Haqqani network," this group (which is allied with the Taliban) is thought to have carried out a number of attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan during the past year.

But others said the U.S. cannot afford to lock itself in an open-ended conflict in Afghanistan, and needs to bring Pakistan on board in order to guarantee security mechanisms remain in place once U.S. troops have left.

"I know there are many who will criticize reliance on Pakistan given Pakistan's own history," said a senior Western diplomat in Islamabad who spoke to on condition of anonymity. "But the U.S. needs an ally who is able and willing to hold the security apparatus together. In this case, Pakistan is not one such ally; in fact, it's the only U.S. ally."

The diplomat characterized General Kiyani's offer as "a serious new beginning."

By CBS News' Farhan Bokhari reporting from Islamabad

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