Khalid Iqbal Since President Barack Obamas WestPoint speech, there have been two distinct schools of thought. General David Petraeus hopes to intensify the military operations to degrade the Taliban to a point that they will crawl on their knees and plead for peace on American terms. However, Vice President Joe Biden has been arguing that the Taliban do not pose any real threat to the US national security interests, and a deal with them will make it possible to bring the war to an end. Petraeus methodology is in it for the long haul; whereas Biden is in a great hurry to exit, as he sees 2011 as a year when bulk of the foreign troops will be out of Afghanistan. There is widespread scepticism within the US security establishment over Petraeus claim that his strategy is beginning to work. But by nominating Biden to lead the mission to Islamabad, Obama has indicated that he keeps an open mind. Thus, the Vice Presidents current mission may be decisive in sowing the germane seeds of sustainable peace in Afghanistan. Apparently, the Obama administration has realised that Pakistans concerns are not being addressed, and thus Biden was assigned to ask the Pakistani side to articulate its long-term strategy for the region. Before reaching Islamabad, the Vice President visited Kabul for a briefing on the efforts made by the Afghan security forces to take responsibility of the country from the foreign forces by the end of 2014. Biden met with US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and General Petraeus for an update from them on the situation on the ground. Some of the briefings also focused on counterterrorism efforts and counterinsurgency training. However, his main attention was to assess the progress toward transition. It is fair to say, we have largely arrested the Taliban momentum here in some very important areas, Biden told in a joint press conference with Karzai. But he cautioned that the success was fragile and reversible. It is going to require more pressure on Taliban from Pakistani side of the border than we have been able to observe so fartraining and aid will continue even after responsibility for security is handed overboth sides share a common goal of a stable, sovereign Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Kabul, Washington and Islamabad agree that 2011 marks the beginning of the transition. By 2014, the Afghans are envisaged to be in the lead throughout the country. Anyway, Biden later came to Islamabad to discuss Pakistans cooperation in fighting the militants in the border region with special emphasis on regional security. Apart from emphasising on the need for increasing intelligence sharing between the two countries, he also exchanged views on the bilateral relations, including the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue. However, his primary focus was on Afghanistans peace and reconciliation process. Without doubt, Joe Bidens visit to Islamabad indicates Washingtons embarrassment and anxiety that it stands excluded from a regional initiative on the Afghan peace process that could be about to take off. The rapid sequence of events over the past fortnight or so had taken Washington by surprise. Turkish President Abdullah Gul recently hosted a summit meeting of the trilateral forum comprising his Pakistani and Afghan counterparts. Turkey takes its mediatory role rather seriously and so the initiative has met with some degree of success in bringing Kabul and Islamabad closer. In addition, Turkey is willing to allow the opening of a representative office of the Taliban on its soil. More so, Ankara maintains good equation with various Afghan groups and is a generous donor for Afghanistans reconstruction. These factors make Turkey an acceptable mediator to almost all stakeholders of the Afghan conflict. Before this summit, Karzai had tasked the Head of the Afghan High Council for Peace, Burhanuddin Rabbani, to visit Tehran. Within days, Tehran also had another important Afghan visitor, Vice President Mohammed Fahim. Hence, the visit by Fahim suggests that Iran is poised to keep its options open. After Karzais return from Istanbul, things became faster. Rabbani also led a delegation to Islamabad. He held meetings with the Pakistani civil and military leadership. This has signalled Islamabads endorsement of Rabbanis leadership role in any intra-Afghan dialogue. (Rabbani is an Islamic scholar, who has an appeal among the Islamic circles in Pakistan and Iran. He belonged to the original Peshawar Seven during the jihad. He can be instrumental in putting up a bridge through which important figures like Jalaluddin could cross over to mainstream Afghan politics.) Anyhow, the speed with which Kabul and Islamabad are pushing the proposal for intra-Afghan dialogue has taken the US by surprise. As and when intra-Afghan peace talks begin to pick up momentum, the entire US position will cave in, and the Obama administration will find itself in an untenable position of stubbornly insisting on pursuing a war which neither the Afghan people nor the regional powers want. So the Vice President is a long time well-wisher of Pakistan. His stay in Pakistan was a brief one, yet with profound implications for the region. Biden for the first time publicly accepted the Pakistani concerns about Indias role in Afghanistan and he acknowledged the fact that Afghanistan was being used by Delhi as a conduit for terror into Pakistan. This is a very significant development. He denied that the US favours India by saying: That is dead wrong. Biden said: There are those also who accuse the United States of violating your sovereignty. He disagreed with that view saying that he would respectfully suggest that it is extremists who do that. Our goal is to work with your leaders and restore and strengthen sovereignty in those areas of your country where extremists have violated it. However, no Pakistani would buy that justification for the drone attacks that have killed thousands of innocent civilians. At the same time, Biden has tried to smooth relations, bruised because of drone attacks, the rhetoric from US officials, and Obamas statements in Delhi. A close partnership with Pakistan and its people is in the vital self-interest of the United States of America, andis in the vital interest of the Pakistani people as wellMy hope is, God willing, if Im able to stand here next year with you, that were able to point to greater progress and greater resolve and greater prosperity for your people and mine, Biden said. He also quashed rumours about the US boots on the ground in Pakistan. The Pakistani leadership has informed Biden that Pakistan wanted to ensure that the territorial integrity of Afghanistan is not compromised. This was a clear reference to the Blackwell plan sponsored by India, which had proposed the division of Afghanistan. Pakistan has rejected the notion of the Indian influence in Afghanistan, and has clearly stated that it hopes there will be no new Great Game pertaining to the war-torn country. Pakistan vociferously rejected the US assertion about the so-called safe havens along the Pak-Afghan border. Pakistan has also clearly informed Mr Biden that weapons and financial support were coming into the country from Afghanistan impacting the security situation in Pakistan. The bottom line is that the Obama administration is eager to get out of Afghanistan and is feeding the US press about how well the war is going. Vice President Biden is part of the White House faction that wants the US to extricate itself from the quagmire as soon as possible. However, it is unfortunate that while Biden is pursuing a noble objective to end the conflict, Admiral Mullen has tried to torpedo his effort by once again reading from the beaten script that Pakistan is the epicentre of terrorism. The writer is a national security analyst. Email: