ISLAMABAD/WASHINGTON: A Pakistan army contingent left for China on Thursday to take part in a joint anti-terror exercise, the military said, in the latest sign of closer relations between the two countries.
Special Forces from both countries including the Chinese air force, as well as senior military leaders, will join the week-long exercises dubbed ‘Friendship’, it said.
President Asif Ali Zardari is scheduled to visit China from July 6 to 11 for talks with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.
China last month defended its nuclear cooperation with Pakistan as peaceful after the United States sought clarification from Beijing on the sale of two reactors to Islamabad.
The state-run China National Nuclear Corporation agreed to finance two civilian nuclear reactors in Punjab, despite fears abroad about the safety of atomic material in the country.
Meanwhile Afghan President Hamid Karzai has agreed to send a group of military officers to Pakistan for training, a significant policy shift that signals deepening relations between the long-wary neighbours, a major US newspaper reported. “The move is a victory for Pakistan, which seeks a major role in Afghanistan,” The Washington Post said in a Kabul datelined report.
According to the report, 300 Afghan soldiers are currently being trained under bilateral agreements in other countries, including Turkey and India, Pakistan’s traditional adversary.
Afghan officials said Karzai has begun to see Pakistan as a necessary ally in ending the war through negotiation with the Taliban or on the battlefield, the paper reported.
“This is meant to demonstrate confidence to Pakistan, in the hope of encouraging them to begin a serious consultation and conversation with us on the issue of the Taliban,” Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Karzai’s national security adviser, said of the training agreement.
Some key US officials involved in Afghanistan said they knew nothing of the arrangement. “We are neither aware of nor have we been asked to facilitate the training of the Afghan officer corps with the Pakistani military,” Lt Gen William B Caldwell IV, head of the Nato training command in Afghanistan, said.
Washington has spent $27 billion to train and equip Afghan security forces since 2002, and President Obama’s war strategy calls for doubling the strength of both the army and police force there by October 2011 to facilitate the gradual departure of US troops.
This week, Gen David H Petraeus, confirmed on Wednesday as the new US and Nato war commander, said the US wants to “forge a partnership or further the partnership that has been developing between Afghanistan and Pakistan”.
Pakistan has been pushing for months for a training deal, and Spanta said that a “limited” number of officers would be part of the new agreement. Details were still under discussion, but a senior Pakistani government official said the programme was expected to begin “soon”.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2010.
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