Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a coproduction of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. President Hamid Karzai said today Afghanistan will no longer engage directly in peace talks with the Taliban; rather, Karzai said the talks will be with the country backing the Taliban. That's widely seen as a not so thinly veiled reference to Pakistan. Afghan and US officials have accused Pakistan of supporting the Haqqani Network, that's the group accused of assassinating the head of Afghanistan's peace council. Burhanuddin Rabbani was tasked with negotiating with the Taliban. He was killed by a suicide bomber in Kabul. Earlier today we learned that a top Haqqani leader denied his group was involved. Sirajuddin Haqqani made that comment along with many others in a recording to the BBC's Pashto Service.
Sirajuddin Haqqani: [speaking Arabic]
Werman: That's Haqqani offering his greetings and acknowledging that a face-to-face interview would have preferable. Jonathan Marcus is the BBC's Defense and Diplomatic Correspondent, he says journalists with the Pashto service had provided written questions to Sirajuddin Haqqani.
Jonathan Marcus: They expected to get back written answers and in fact, what they got back was a computer dongle, a small drive on which there were audio answers to their questions. One has to stress though of course that this wasn't an interview though in the sense that they were able to put pressure on him to followup on any of those questions, so it very much one removed.
Werman: There's been some general confusion about what the Haqqani Network is exactly, whether they represent the Taliban, whether they're separate from the Taliban. Just on this point alone what did Sirajuddin have to say about that?
Marcus: Well, it's interesting because he placed very much in the mainstream of the Taliban and the movement, suggesting that planning, finances and direction for their operations came from the center. Now, that isn't necessarily the way I think many western analysts see the Haqqani network. I think they regard this as one the more violent Jihadist organizations and indeed it's the organization that's believed to be responsible for some of the most violent audacious attacks in the Afghan capital, Kabul, over recent weeks and months.
Werman: And the $64,000 question is is the Haqqani Network working on behalf of Pakistan's military intelligence service, the ISI, allegations that were put forth by former Admiral Mike Mullen, what did Sirajuddin Haqqani have to say about that?
Marcus: Well, you're absolutely right, Admiral Mullen made it very clear that in his view the Haqqani Network was essentially a veritable arm of Pakistan's intelligence services. The Haqqani Network itself denies this. Sirajuddin Haqqani says that his organization has had links or certainly contact with all sorts of people from Pakistan, from the Americans, from other Islamic and non-Islamic countries and so on, many of those contacts he says have continued, but he insists to use the phrase that he uses that there are no such links with Pakistan at the moment that could be beneficial for the Mujahideen. So he seems to be distancing his organization from Pakistan. Now, you would expect him to presumable say that, clearly that is in variance with the very highest level intelligence from the Pentagon itself.
Werman: Now, in the past few days Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said that since the killing of Afghan peace envoy, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Karzai is no longer going to entertain any negotiations with the Taliban and instead will focus on talking with Pakistan. How does that fit in with what the Haqqani Network has been saying in this interview and what is the big picture here? Who does and who does not want to talk to whom?
Marcus: Well, the big picture is that the Americans have got their drawdown timetable in Afghanistan pretty well set. They need to do various things to achieve that timetable; part of it is practical matters, but equally there's an important political dimension as well which is to try and get elements of the Taliban who can be won over to consider playing some legitimate role in the future governance of the country. Now, in that battle Pakistan is obviously a key player. You have groups like Haqqani Network, which being a particularly effective element of the Taliban's military forces is really an important force to try and win over. And I think that perhaps it's in that light that Mr. Haqqani's comments have to be seen because there are many analysts in the west certainly who believe that in a sense a lot of what we're seeing now has to be interpreted as something of a power struggle within the myriad elements that make up the Taliban itself.
Werman: Jonathan Marcus is the BBC's Defense and Diplomatic Correspondent. Thanks so much, Jonathan.
Marcus: Thank you.