A high-powered gathering of the country’s civil and military leadership here on Wednesday finalised a strategy for Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf’s maiden trip to Kabul on today (Thursday), and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief’s crucial meeting with his American counterpart next week in the US.
The meeting, co-chaired by the president and prime minister, was attended by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Chairman General Khalid Shameem Wynne, Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Muhammad Asif Sandila and Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt as well as other key officials.
“The security situation in the region was discussed during the meeting,” said a terse statement issued after the meeting. However, sources said that the meeting focused on Pakistan-US ties in the backdrop of the recent breakthrough in the months-old diplomatic standoff over the resumption of Nato supplies to Afghanistan through Pakistan’s land routes.
Sources maintained that civil and military leadership advised the ISI Director General (DG) Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam to explore new options and seek an alternative for drone attacks inside the country’s tribal belt. A security official confirmed that Lt Gen Islam will travel to Washington next week in an effort to resume talks on intelligence cooperation and drone strikes.
It is to be the new ISI chief’s first visit the US, and is being seen as the latest sign of the easing of tensions between the two countries whose alliance is considered crucial for the Afghan endgame. Islam, who was appointed in March, will hold talks with Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus on counter-terror cooperation and intelligence sharing, a senior Pakistani security official told AFP.
Pakistan is understood to have offered a new mechanism to the US to replace the use of drones inside the country’s tribal areas. “We need this precise strike capability to avoid collateral damage and its political repercussions. The idea is that the US develops the target and tells us, and we destroy it ourselves,” the official added. Officials pointed that the ISI chief was going to the US with ‘full backing of political and military leadership.’
Wednesday’s meeting also discussed the prime minister’s visit to Kabul, where he is expected to take up the issue of repeated cross-border incursions by militants from the Afghan side. According to sources, Ashraf will push Afghan President Hamid Karzai to take action against Maulvi Fazlullah’s group and will also discuss joint-monitoring of the border.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2012.