WASHINGTON: US and Pakistani spy chiefs exchanged grievances in their first official meeting this week, sources familiar with the discussions said on Friday, but it was unclear if the two uneasy allies made any progress to end deep divisions on militants living in Pakistani tribal areas or on US drone strikes.
Lieutenant-General Zaheerul Islam, who was named to head the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in March, on his first official visit to Washington met on Thursday with CIA Director David Petraeus at CIA headquarters.
Ahead of his visit, Pakistani officials said the country’s spy chief would call for an end to US military drone strikes in volatile areas bordering Afghanistan and push for a sharing of technology and intelligence.
The public preview of Pakistani demands of Petraeus appeared to have displeased US officials, who pushed back at the notion they might cede to Pakistani requests.
The United States and Pakistan are seeking to repair relations that have suffered over the past 20 months, in part because of the unilateral US raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last May and a US air attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.
The two countries reached a breakthrough last month with a deal that reopened ground supply routes that Nato nations use to supply troops in neighbouring Afghanistan, which had been closed since the November air attack along the Afghan border.
The Obama administration is deeply suspicious of Pakistan, which it believes harbors militants, while Pakistan accuses Washington of disregarding its own human toll from militancy and says drone strikes violate its sovereignty.
While sources familiar with the discussions said the two spy chiefs aired mutual grievances, they did not appear to have made big strides on the main issues.
Pakistan’s parliament has demanded an end to the drone strikes, but the sources in Washington indicated that US officials did not yield to those demands.
“The discussions today between General Zaheer and Director Petraeus were substantive, professional, and productive,” a US official said on condition of anonymity.
“Both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to work together to counter the terrorist presence in the region that threatens both US and Pakistani national security.”
Ahead of Thursday’s meeting, US officials signaled there would be little, if any, change in US counter-terrorism activity in Pakistan and the region.
The Obama administration is pressuring Pakistan to take action in particular against the Haqqani network, a militant group allied with the Taliban that is blamed for some of the boldest attacks against Western and Afghan government targets in Afghanistan.
Pakistan responds that it is doing all it can against militants, but notes that extremists attack its own civilians and soldiers.
Key concerns raised
A Pakistani official, on condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that the issue of drones was raised in multiple meetings between ISI chief Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam and US officials on Thursday.
The official added that Pakistan has presented a counter-proposal on using F-16s to target militants after US shares intelligence. “There was no compromise on “accepting” drone attacks,” the official said, adding that on the whole, there was a better understanding of Pakistan’s security concerns.
Another issue that has dominated the US-Pakistan relationship has been the contentious issue of the Haqqani Network. US officials have blamed the group, believed to be based in North Waziristan, for multiple attacks on coalition forces and the US Embassy in Kabul.
The US Congress has introduced legislation asked the Secretary of State to label the Haqqani Network as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation.
Another source familiar with the discussions said that the US was told that if the US Government wanted to label the Haqqani Network as an FTO, it would be the US’ call, and Pakistan would not stand in the way.