A front-page story on Afghan-Pakistani relations in today’s Washington Post indicates that Afghanistan and Pakistan are discussing a peace settlement for Afghanistan. While a genuine thaw in relations between the two countries would be welcome, the idea that the U.S. would take a back seat in any effort to negotiate an end to the war in Afghanistan defies logic. The U.S. has not lost over 1,000 U.S. soldiers in battle and invested billions of U.S. dollars in Afghanistan only to allow Pakistan to re-install its violent proxies there.

President Karzai is weaker than ever and any notion that he would be able to hold his own in negotiations with the Pakistani military does not stand up to scrutiny.  According to today’s Washington Post article (and other sources), the Pakistani military is offering to mediate a solution by bringing the deadly Jalaluddin Haqqani network into the negotiations.  (Reminder: Jalaluddin Haqqani’s forces in coordination with Pakistan’s intelligence serve (ISI) bombed the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July 2008, killing two senior Indian officials and over 50 Afghan civilians).

Moreover, Pakistan’s “offer” to bring Haqqani into the negotiations comes at a time when the U.S. is pressing Pakistan to take on Haqqani’s forces in North Waziristan through military operations.  General David Petraeus in Congressional testimony this week told U.S. lawmakers that Pakistan’s military Chief General Kayani was recently informed by U.S. officials that Haqqani fighters were involved in a raid on the U.S. Bagram Airbase in mid-May.

Obama administration policies are partially to blame for the Pakistani hubris of pushing for a political settlement in Afghanistan that favors their proxy and our enemy, Haqqani. The Obama administration’s lack of a clear policy on reconciliation also is contributing to Karzai’s flailing about on the issue. Karzai recently fired respected Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh over differences on the Taliban reconciliation issue.  Saleh said negotiations with the Taliban would “disgrace” Afghanistan.

Senior administration officials (including Obama himself) have repeatedly said any reconciliation with the Taliban must be Afghan-led, and they have failed to assert a clear U.S. role and vision for this process.

The Obama administration must be more forthright about what a political settlement in Afghanistan should involve and take a leadership role in the process. If the U.S. fails to take a more direct role in the reconciliation process, it risks squandering the entire situation in Afghanistan and allowing the country to return to domination by extremist forces friendly to those still intent on attacking the U.S. homeland.