As the United States seeks to mend its frayed ties with Pakistan, whose support is seen as vital for the success of its Afghan mission, its top diplomat in Islamabad on Monday called for a ‘renewal’ of ties between the two countries.
Pakistan-US relations have been at the lowest ebb since January due to a series of damaging rows that hampered efforts at cooperation in the war on al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The remarks by American Ambassador Cameron Munter coincided with a visit to Washington by Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
The killing of two men by CIA contractor Raymond Davis in January exposed a growing rift between the countries’ spy agencies over intelligence sharing and exacerbated tensions over America’s controversial drone war in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
Lt-Gen Pasha is touring Washington in an effort to sort out these differences which, according to Western media reports, compelled the ISI to halt intelligence cooperation with the CIA.
“It remains vital to us both to see progress in Pakistan and the region, in the interest of peace, stability and prosperity of Pakistan and its neighbours. In all these areas, I stress one word: renewal,” Munter told the Institute of Strategic Studies in a public address on Pakistan-US relations.
Munter acknowledged there had been difficulties, but stopped short of saying exactly how the United States could reset relations with Pakistan after months of strain.
“We’ve had some difficult days in the recent past. But I’m here today to speak of opportunities in the future, not of problems of the past. Those problems have been acute in recent months, symbolised by the case of Raymond Davis,” he said.
Facing accusations that the CIA has worked without the permission of the ISI, Munter acknowledged some errors and said the United States sought greater dialogue in the future.
“What we have to do is to accept that we have habits and we have tendencies that don’t work for us that tend to get in the way. This is precisely why we are always uncomfortable… when we don’t have the kind of contact that we need,” he said.
The presence of armed CIA contractors in Pakistan drew strong reaction not only from the public but also from the country’s security establishment.
A report by Reuters news agency claimed last week that joint Pak-US intelligence operations have been halted since January this year.
It quoted an unnamed US official as saying that the Pakistanis are making more efforts to curb, restrict, or at least more intensely monitor CIA’s activities.
Pakistan security officials say they are seeking to review the ‘rules of engagement’ with the United States on intelligence cooperation.
They say Lt-Gen Pasha will raise these issues during his meetings with the US officials. This is Gen Pasha’s first trip to Washington since a court in New York had summoned him along with his predecessor in October last year in connection with a case pertaining to the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Pakistan made it clear that the ISI chief and other Pakistani officials summoned in the case will not appear in the court.
Last week, a White House report criticised Pakistan’s efforts to defeat the Taliban on the Afghan border. Islamabad rejected the findings and said it would not be held accountable for US-led failures in Afghanistan.
President Asif Ali Zardari then told the Guardian newspaper that the war in Afghanistan is destabilising Pakistan.
“We can’t afford to cut and run,” Munter said, seeking to address fears that the United States will abandon the region when it pulls out combat troops from Afghanistan, currently scheduled for 2014.
Instead, the United States would seek to “change the nature of our help”. “We want it to be training, we want it to be business,” he said. “But we won’t leave, we don’t want to leave... we must be wise enough to build a relationship outside of the military relationship.”
Pakistan is seen to have a ‘pivotal’ role in stabilising Afghanistan, where the US-led Nato forces have been fighting a deadly Taliban insurgency since 2001.
Lt-Gen Pasha’s visit and a trip later this month by Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir to Washington are expected to pave the way for a crucial trilateral meeting between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US on the Afghan endgame and the way forward.
The three-way talks ahead of the start of the phased withdrawal of the US-led Nato forces from Afghanistan in July this year were postponed due to tensions between the two countries. (With additional input from AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2011.
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