As the Obama administration presses Pakistan to continue the battle against the Taliban in the tribal areas, Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, is courting Pakistan's Islamists as part of the effort to listen to critics of American policy. One of the Islamist leaders Holbrooke met with was Fazl-ur-Rehman, a known supporter of the Taliban. Here is how Reuters described Rehman:
Holbrooke rejected the party's complaints about a Western "assault" on Islam, saying "that could not be further from the truth" with Obama, who has roots in the religion, now in the White House.
Fazl-ur-Rehman, whose Jamiat-e-ulema-e-Islam party was active in rousing support for the Taliban in 1990s, also got an audience with Holbrooke and his team.
Rehman denies al Qaeda's responsibility for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and once warned that if U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan, no American in Pakistan would be safe.
In more recent years, however, Rehman's relationship with the Taliban has grown uneasy, and he has publicly supported negotiations between the U.S.-backed government in Kabul and the Islamist group.
Actually, Rehman and his political party haven't backed all that far away from supporting the Taliban. In fact, Rehman's party was responsible for hosting a rally for supporters of slain Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah in 2007.
Dadullah was one of the most capable and wanted Taliban commanders in Afghanistan. He was in charge of the Taliban's military operations in the South, which includes Helmand and Kandahar, the two most violent provinces in Afghansitan. Dadullah is also responsible for incorporating suicide attacks into Taliban operations -- he hosted camps that trained suicide bombers.
During the rally in Pakistan's Baluchistan province, senior members of Rehman's party eulogized Dadullah in front of more than 10,000 supporters. Also, recordings from senior Taliban leaders, including his brother Mansoor, who took over Taliban operations, were piped in.
"We will complete Dadullah's mission by expelling Americans and liberating Afghanistan," Mansoor said.
"The charged audience kept raising slogans of â€˜Long live Mullah Omar, Long Live Osama bin Laden and Taliban movement,'" a Pakistani newspaper reported in June 2007.
One should question whether Holbrooke is courting those who merely disagree with U.S. policy, or the enemy.