Amid simmering tensions between Pakistan and the United States, Islamabad on Monday saw a flurry of diplomatic activity, both overt and covert, directed at defusing the situation.
US Ambassador Cameron Munter, recently returned from Washington, held a meeting with Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir. Under more secrecy, senior Saudi intelligence officials met the ISI chief in an attempt to bridge the divide between Pakistan and the US. To add further speculation, a delegation led by Chinese vice Prime Minister Meng Jianzhu, who is also China’s top security official, landed in the capital and held talks with Pakistani civilian and military leaders.
In a related development, Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani cancelled a trip to the UK, where he was due to meet Defence Secretary Liam Fox. Pakistan Army spokesman General Athar Abbas said the visit had been “postponed indefinitely” but would be re-scheduled. Abbas put the decision down to “the current situation at home” but refused to elaborate further. It is presumed that Kayani called off the visit apparently to continue in-house talks on mounting US pressure for Pakistan to abjure its alleged support for the Haqqani network.
Saudis as intermediaries?
Sources claim that Saudi Arabia is quietly working to mediate between Pakistan and the United States.
The meeting between Saudi intelligence officials and Lt. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha took place at the Chaklala Airbase, sources said. Some media reports claim that the ISI chief, after a “crucial” meeting with the Saudi intelligence officials, dashed to Jeddah for further consultations.
When approached, however, a senior military official confirmed that a delegation of Saudi intelligence officials was on a visit to Islamabad, but insisted it had nothing to do with the ongoing row between Pakistan and the US.
“We have counter-terrorism cooperation with the US and the visit was part of that cooperation,” said the official, who also strongly denied reports that the ISI chief had rushed off to Saudi Arabia.
Munter and Bashir agree on ‘deeper engagement’
Both the US embassy and the foreign ministry attempted to downplay the hype over the issue of the Haqqani network after a meeting between US Ambassador Munter and Foreign Secretary Bashir.
“It was a regular meeting but also indicates the fact that Pakistan and the US have a broad-based relationship,” said Mark Stroh, US Embassy spokesperson.
“Both agreed on dialogue and deeper engagement at all levels,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Tehmina Janjua, adding that the meeting between the two was a follow-up on the three-and-half-hour meeting between US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in New York on September 18.
An American diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that the situation is “still tense and fluid.” He declined to elaborate.
Pakistan and China cooperation
China’s Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu arrived in Islamabad on Monday and was scheduled to meet senior officials. Although agreements for economic and technical cooperation were signed, there may have also been discussions on Pakistan’s ties with the US.
“China is always there for us,” said Interior Minister Rehman Malik as he welcomed Meng. Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar echoed Malik’s views, saying: “The Chinese leader reaffirmed China’s continuing support for Pakistan in its fight against militancy and the promotion of regional peace and stability,”
Babar said that during two rounds of talks, mutual cooperation, the regional situation, the fight against militancy and the recent devastation caused by heavy rains in Sindh were discussed.
“The President said that Pakistan greatly appreciates China’s support for Pakistan on all issues of major concern. He said that the Chinese role was very important to usher in a new era of peace and stability in the region,” he added.
Pakistan and China signed a number of agreements, including those on relief goods, emergency humanitarian assistance and the rehabilitation of some damaged parts of the National Highways network. One of the agreements signed involved approximately $250 million of Chinese assistance.
Later the President hosted dinner for the Chinese dignitary and his delegation that was also attended by some federal ministers and senior officials.
Meeting with CJCSC
Earlier Meng Jianzhu met General Khalid Shameem Wynne, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee. According to ISPR, the media wing of the Pakistan Army, both leaders discussed matters pertaining to mutual interests and the emerging geo-strategic situation of the region. Jianzhu appreciated the role played by the armed forces of Pakistan in the fight against terror. Wynne highlighted the converging interest of Pakistan and China, both in security and economic arenas.
Iranian delegation arrives tomorrow
Iran’s Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar will pay an official two-day visit to Pakistan on September 28-29. “Bilateral meetings have been regularly held between us and the Pakistanis to discuss security and other forms of cooperation,” said Mehdi Mohammadi-Fard, deputy interior minister for parliamentary and international affairs, quoted by the Iranian Fars News Agency. The two countries will sign a security agreement on the sidelines of the visit.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 27th, 2011.
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