Afghan leader meets in Pakistan with cleric linked to Taliban

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Afghan president met Saturday with a Pakistani cleric linked to Taliban insurgents.

The meeting marked the first public contact between an Afghan official and members of the Afghan Taliban's support network in Pakistan as Afghanistan seeks to negotiate with the militant movement.

The meeting between President Hamid Karzai and Maulana Samiul Haq was held in Islamabad and shows how far the Afghan president is willing to go to open contact with insurgent leaders.

The Taliban's leaders are widely believed to be based in Pakistan with some level of protection by the country's security forces. The United States and Afghanistan increasingly see negotiating with the Taliban as the only way to end years of warfare in Afghanistan and allow American troops to leave the country without it falling further into chaos.

Haq said Karzai asked for his help in bringing the militant movement's leadership into peace negotiations and to help establish contacts with the Taliban leadership. A spokesman for Karzai's office confirmed the meeting took place.

Haq runs a large seminary where many insurgent leaders once studied and reportedly still provides recruits for the Taliban in Afghanistan. He is known in some circles as the "Father of the Taliban," but it's unclear how much sway he has still with the movement.

Karzai was in Pakistan on a trip to gain the country's cooperation in the nascent peace process, and met Haq in an Islamabad hotel, not Haq's seminary closer to the Afghan border.

Deaths

As of Saturday, 1,771 U.S. troops have died in the war in Afghanistan. Identifications as reported by the U.S. military and not previously published:

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Kyler L. Estrada, 21, Maricopa, Ariz.; noncombat-related training incident; Djibouti.

Marine Lance Cpl. Osbrany Montes, 20, North Arlington, N.J.; combat Feb. 10; Helmand province.

Afghan leader meets in Pakistan with cleric linked to Taliban 02/18/12 [Last modified: Saturday, February 18, 2012 8:35pm]

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