By Carlo Muñoz - 04/16/13 09:26 PM EDT
There is little evidence to suggest Islamabad is intentionally undermining Afghan-led and American-backed peace talks with the Taliban, Gen. Joseph Dunford, head of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan said Tuesday.
That said, Dunford's role as top U.S. commander "is to set the conditions for reconciliation" with the Taliban, not ensure their success, he said during Tuesday's hearing on the America's future role in the country.
"I think we're waiting now for the Taliban to meet their end of the bargain in terms of moving the process ahead. But that's not a process that I'm deeply engaged in on a routine basis," the four-star general added.
That said, Karzai's accusations "highlight the very deep mistrust that currently exists and has historically existed between Pakistan and Afghanistan," Dunford said.
Pakistan is already walking away from Afghan-led peace talks with the Taliban, cancelling efforts to fly Taliban representatives from the country to Doha to participate in the talks.
White House officials had hoped to fast-track Taliban peace plan, saying a deal would be "absolutely essential to bringing the war to a responsible close," Doug Lute, the administration's top adviser for South Asia, said in January.
Islamabad's decision to back away from the talks is a huge blow to the Obama administration's postwar plans.
Roughly 66,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan, with half of those forces scheduled to withdraw from the country this spring.
The final 32,000 American forces remaining in country will start coming home following the country's presidential election in April 2014 — officially ending America's combat role in Afghanistan.
Islamabad's demand that Kabul cut all ties with Pakistan's long-time foe, India, as well as immediately sign a military cooperation pact with Pakistan was a clear sign that Islamabad was not ready to make a deal, Afghan officials said in March.
"When optimism was prevailing about Pakistani attitudes, our human intelligence suggested that – on the ground – this optimism was not well-founded, and unfortunately we were proved right," a senior Afghan government official told the Guardian that month.
But Dunford did hold out the possibility that Afghan-Pakistan cooperation on a Taliban peace plan could be salvaged.
"If we can bring that relationship together in a constructive way and establish a foundation of trust . . . that can be the foundation of something deeper, some strategic partnership that would obviously take years to develop," he said.