Pakistani and US intelligence chiefs held their official meeting in Washington on Thursday but it was unclear if the two uneasy allies made any progress to end deep divisions on militants living in Pakistani tribal areas or on US drone strikes.
Lieutenant-General Zaheer ul-Islam, who was named to head the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in March last , on his first official visit to Washington met on Thursday with CIA Director David Petraeus at CIA headquarters.
US State Department said that the US and Pakistani spy masters held
"substantive, professional and productive" talks Thursday on ways to work
together to fight extremists, in a new sign of easing tensions between the two
countries. "The talks provided an opportunity to discuss a number of proposals
for how we can enhance our joint efforts against terrorism."
"Both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to work together to counter the terrorist presence in the region that threatens both US and Pakistani national security," the department said without going into further details.
Commenting on the talks between the two intelligence chiefs, the Voice of America radio noted that "little is expected to come out of the latest closed-door discussions on anti-terrorism cooperation".
Underlining the differences between the two sides, the official VOA reported that "Washington refuses to stop using drones against militants in Pakistan or share the technology with Islamabad. At the same time, US officials continue to pressure Pakistan to go after militant safe havens in its territory."
Writing in a leading English newspaper The News, retired Vice Admiral Taj M Khattak pointed out that the director general of Inter-Services Intelligence, currently on a visit to the US, has a difficult brief. "Whatever else he does, it is hoped that he will reject out of hand any offer of trainers (read the CIA's spies) on ground in Pakistan," Admiral Khattak added.
Another Pakistani newspaper, Dawn reported from Washington, although details of Gen Islam's meeting with US officials on Thursday were not released, the Pakistani side is believed to have asked for an end to drone strikes in Fata. Official sources said the Pakistanis wanted "a clear understanding on the drones, no wink and no nod".
The Pakistanis argue that the strikes had become counter-productive because they also killed a large number of civilians. The Pakistanis also argue that the strikes are increasing anti-American feelings in their country, and thus are not helping in "winning over hearts and minds", the stated main objective of the war against terror.
The United States and Pakistan are seeking to repair relations that have suffered over the past 20 months. US-Pakistan ties really took a nosedive in January 2011 when Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor, shot and killed two Pakistanis in Lahore. A Pakistani court acquitted Davis of murder charges in March 2011 after a deal that involved the payment of compensation, or "blood money," to the families of the two men he killed. The ties further worsened because of the unilateral US raid that allegedly killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011 and a US air attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November prompting Pakistan to close supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan.
After months of wrangling, on July 31, Pakistan signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the US to keep the border open to convoys until the end of 2015, by which time the United States plans to withdraw most forces from Afghanistan. The reopening in turn cleared the way for the release of some $1.1 billion in U.S. funds under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF). The CSF money, designed to reimburse Pakistan for the cost of counter-insurgency operations, had been withheld due to tensions between the two countries and Islamabad's closure of the supply routes.
Retired Vice Admiral Taj M Khattak has described the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Pakistan and the US "a less than even-handed with total disregard to parliament's recommendations."
Under the agreement, Pakistan will provide facilities for the safe and rapid transit of cargo, the cost of which will have to be borne by Pakistan. There will be a minor custom charge of $250 per container, but no transit fee. The US has been paying nearly $500 a year in transit fees to the Central Asian Republics.
The MoU makes no mention of any mechanism as to how smuggling through containers destined for Afghanistan will be prevented. This is important since nearly 11,000 containers had gone missing on their way to Afghanistan in the past. It is a general perception that proliferation of sophisticated weaponry in Karachi and Balochistan is linked with the missing Nato containers. Additionally, the Federal Tax Ombudsman has reported a loss of Rs37 billions ($400 million) in taxes on account of this scandal.
Meanwhile, the decision of the US client government of President Zardari to reopen the routes for supplies to US-led forces fighting in Afghanistan has sparked countrywide protests. Major political and religious parties are mobilizing masses to press the government to reverse its decision and earlier last month Pakistan witnessed its largest protest ever against the reopening of the supply lines.
Not surprisingly, on July 24 gunmen attacked a convoy of container near Peshawar carrying supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan killing one of the drivers of the truck and injuring few others. Officials said that it is the first such attack since Pakistan reopened its border to NATO supply convoys three weeks ago.