U.S. envoy says Pakistan should get behind Afghan peace talks

— -- Pakistan is reluctant to allow senior Taliban leaders to travel to Afghanistan for reconciliation talks, raising concerns that Pakistan is not helping enough to resolve the conflict.

"Those who are willing to talk should be given the opportunity," Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, told USA TODAY in a phone interview. "Those who are determined to fight should have actions taken against them that should prevent them from doing so."

Afghan officials have been meeting with Taliban representatives to find a political solution to the conflict. The United States has said that it supports the Afghan initiative but that it is too early to report progress in the talks.

"You can't kill your way out of an insurgency," Crocker said. "There's got to be a political settlement at some point."

Analysts say Pakistan is attempting to play both sides in the conflict, hedging its bets in the event the Taliban remains after the United States leaves the region. The United States plans to withdraw its forces by the end of 2014.

"The Pakistanis still see the Taliban as their best leverage in Afghanistan," said Lisa Curtis, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a think tank. "They're on the fence right now."

Elements of the Pakistani government, such as its intelligence services, backed the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 1996. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has accused the Pakistanis of aiding the Taliban insurgency today. Several militant groups in Pakistan provide weapons and fighters to the Taliban.

The U.S.-Pakistani relationship worsened after the United States launched a raid into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden. The Pakistanis were not told of the plan before the raid.

Crocker acknowledged Pakistan may be concerned that the United States may abandon the region, leaving Pakistan with a need to have a relationship with the Taliban. He said facilitating peace talks with the Taliban is "in their interests as well as Afghanistan's."

"It's not like they're not cooperating at all," Crocker said of Pakistan.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Pakistan's recent arrest of a senior al-Qaeda leader and two associates in Quetta indicates cooperation.

"I think that's a good sign," Panetta said.

The Pakistani Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Afghanistan's government says it will negotiate with Taliban leaders willing to put down their arms and back the constitution, including respect for women's rights.

Though talks at the national level have not led to a breakthrough, the Afghan government is increasing efforts to reintegrate insurgent fighters into their home villages.

About 2,400 fighters have completed a reintegration program that provides jobs, training and security to former insurgents, according to the coalition command in Afghanistan. An additional 3,000 are waiting to go through the program. Crocker is hopeful these local efforts will weaken the insurgency.

"It's kind of hard to make an insurgency if your gun-toting insurgents have gone into another line of work," Crocker said. "It would certainly diminish the significance of the fat cats who sit in (Pakistan's) Quetta or North Waziristan."