Pakistan and the United States are negotiating a fresh arrangement for allowing American military trainers back into the country, a development that may break a months-old deadlock in the relationship between the two ostensible allies.
The new agreement, if finalised, will allow a smaller number of American military trainers in Pakistan compared to their pre-May 2 strength. While neither side has revealed publicly how many US troops were in Pakistan, some reports have suggested that the number was around 200.
Pakistan kicked out about 90% of the US military personnel stationed in the country as a reaction to the May 2 Abbottabad raid by US forces.
That decision (along with the fact that Osama Bin Laden was found living in Pakistan) had caused a further strain in the ties between the two key allies in the war on terror. In a tit for tat move, the US withheld $800 million assistance in military, much of which, it said, was meant to fund the presence of the US trainers in Pakistan.
The issue of military trainers is believed to be one of the main stumbling blocks in normalising relations between the two countries. However, Washington has offered to restore the aid if Pakistan reverses its decision on the US military trainers. At least two senior military officials told The Express Tribune that both sides are now discussing ways to resolve the issue.
“We had initially told them to pull out all US military personnel but now we have shown flexibility in our position,” said a military official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
However, the official insisted that the number of US military personnel will be very limited and ‘they will be here only for specific projects.’
“The agreement is yet to be finalised as the US is not willing to agree on the minimum essential number we are ready to approve,” said another official.
He did not say how many of the US soldiers Pakistan Army is willing to allow. “The two sides will have to eventually find the way out,” he added.
A US military spokesperson in Pakistan when approached refused to confirm or deny the development.
“We had a broad range of discussions with Pakistan on several issues. We shared common objectives in many areas. But I cannot go into specifics about what is being discussed between the two sides,” said Colonel Michael Shavers.
US Congressional delegation
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told an eight-member US congressional delegation led by Senator Robert Casey that a common strategy needs to be devised that covers the relationship between the two countries beyond 2014, when US troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan.
The US delegation also met Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and visited at the ‘Memorial to the Martyred’ in General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.
“We place this wreath in memory of all members of the Pakistan Armed Forces who have given their lives in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism. These brave soldiers defended Pakistan with their lives, and the American people wish to honour their sacrifice and the sacrifice of their families,” a US embassy statement quoted Senator Casey as saying.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2011.