KABUL, Afghanistan — A bungled attempt by the Afghan government to cultivate a shadowy alliance with Islamist militants escalated into the latest flashpoint in the troubled relationship between Afghanistan and the United States, according to new accounts by officials from both countries.
The disrupted plan involved Afghan intelligence trying to work with the Pakistan Taliban, allies of al-Qaida, to find a trump card in a regional power game that is likely to intensify after the U.S. withdrawal next year, officials said. And what started the hard feelings was that the Americans caught them red-handed.
Tipped off to the scheme, U.S. Special Forces raided an Afghan convoy that was ushering a senior Pakistan Taliban militant, Latif Mehsud, to Kabul for secret talks last month, and now have Mehsud in custody.
Publicly, the Afghan government has described Mehsud as an insurgent peace emissary. But, according to Afghan officials, the ultimate plan was to take revenge on the Pakistani military. In the murk of intrigue and paranoia that dominates the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Pakistanis have long had the upper hand.
Now, not content to be merely the target of a proxy war, the Afghan government decided to recruit some proxies of its own by seeking to aid to the Pakistan Taliban in its fight against Pakistan’s security forces, according to Afghan officials. And they were beginning to make progress over the past year, they say, before the U.S. raid exposed them.