ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – After 10 years of bloody battle in Afghanistan, the United States is trolling for Taliban officials to talk peace with before the July drawdown of American troops.
Washington's special envoy, Marc Grossman, has a one-point agenda: to reconcile Afghanistan's warring factions, say Western diplomats in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But as Washington seeks negotiating partners, it has little knowledge of who among the Taliban has the clout to make talks worthwhile.
Grossman, therefore, is trying for access to Mullah Mohammed Omar, the one-eyed Taliban leader, according to Imtiaz Gul, head of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital.
In a meeting earlier this month in Islamabad, Gul said Grossman told him that he was looking for "persons or groups who can provide us access to Mullah Omar, who can demonstrate their ability to approach Mullah Omar and get him on board, who can get through to Mullah Omar to open talks."
Finding a genuine interlocutor is a slippery business.
Heavily sanctioned and largely ostracized during their rule, many members of the Taliban leadership are not known to U.S. officials.
For example, late last year a Quetta, Pakistan, shopkeeper posed as the Taliban's former aviation minister, Mullah Mohammed Akhtar Mansour, and met twice with Western officials before they realized they had been tricked.
The Associated Press has also learned that the United States held a series of meetings with more than one Taliban member. There also has been contact with representatives of Hezb-e-Islami, a group led by U.S.-declared terrorist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Haqqani network, considered by NATO and the U.S. to be their deadliest enemy in Afghanistan.
Earlier this month the German weekly Der Speigel reported that Germany had helped U.S. officials contact Mullah Omar's personal secretary, Tayyab Aga. He was the last public voice of the Taliban before fighters fled southern Kandahar province in December 2001, shortly after U.S.-led invasion. While Germany has been involved, opening of contact with Aga was an American initiative, a western diplomat in the region told The AP.
The last time Aga was seen in public was Nov. 21, 2001 when he conducted a final Taliban press conference in Spin Boldak in southern Kandahar Province. The Taliban fled Kandahar on Dec. 7, 2001 allowing Hamid Karzai to be named president and the U.S. led coalition to announce that the Taliban had been routed countrywide.More