ISLAMABAD - A high-level meeting co-chaired by President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf Wednesday discussed the regional security with focus on prime minister’s visit to Afghanistan and US-Pakistan relations.
ISI Director General Lt-Gen Zaheerul Islam, who is visiting the US next week, has been authorised to take a determined stance on the issue of drone attacks during his talks with the US officials, a foreign agency quoted an official source as telling. He will seek direct control of predators for precision strikes and for minimising their political fallout.
Official sources told The Nation that the meeting discussed regional security, militants’ attacks from across the border, situation after resumption of Nato supplies and Pak-US relations. The prime minister briefed the participants about his talks with Saudi King Abdullah on reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
The meeting reiterated Pakistan’s resolve to facilitate Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process in Afghanistan. The meeting was informed that ISI DG during his visit to the US would discuss new framework for intelligence sharing between the two countries.
Pakistan’s spymaster would meet his CIA counterpart and other senior US officials to discuss evolving some mechanism to end the attacks by drones, US weapon of choice which Pakistan believes was counterproductive to anti-terrorism efforts.
The meeting held at the Aiwan-e-Sadr was attended among others by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani, Defence Secretary Nargis Sethi, Secretary General to the President Salman Faruqui, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Khalid Shameem Wynne, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Muhammad Asif Sandila and Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt.
Agencies add: Lt-Gen Zaheerul Islam will resume talks on intelligence cooperation and drone strikes, the thorniest aspect of Pakistani-US relations, an official said Wednesday. It is the first time in a year the head of the ISI flies to Washington, signalling a thaw in relations beset by crisis since US troops found and killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011.
Zaheerul Islam, who was appointed in March, will hold talks with CIA Director David Petraeus on counter-terror cooperation and intelligence sharing, a senior Pakistani security official told AFP. But the differences and intractability on both sides highlight the tensions of the fractured anti-terror alliance, despite Islamabad’s decision to end a seven-month blockade on Nato supplies for Afghanistan.
The United States is understood to be keen for a return of US military personnel to assist Pakistani officers in the northwest, where Washington says Taliban havens are exacerbating the war in neighbouring Afghanistan. “It is not true,” said the official, when asked if Pakistan may allow such a return.
Islamabad’s desire is an end to US attacks against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and the means for Islamabad to carry out the attacks instead. But on that, the battle lines have been drawn and there is little indication of concessions, given the level of distrust between Islamabad and Washington.
“The general has been authorised to take a firm stand on the drones’ issue during his talks,” the official told AFP. “The visit has the full backing of the political and military leadership,” he said. “We need this precision strike capability to avoid collateral damage and its political fallout. The idea is that the US develops the target and tells us, and we destroy it ourselves,” the official added.
Islamabad has been increasingly vocal in its opposition to the drones, which leaders quietly approved initially, as its alliance with Washington crashed to its lowest ebb in a decade. Pakistan says American raids are a violation of sovereignty and fan anti-US sentiment.
But US officials are understood to believe the attacks too important to give up, although the number has declined as relations have nosedived. Many also distrust Pakistan’s willingness and ability to go after militants deemed a threat to the United States.