While the United States and its allies wind down a long, costly and unpopular war, US President Barack Obama’s top aides for the region have also accelerated efforts to enlist Pakistan’s support for a fledgling peace process in Afghanistan.
Marc Grossman, the outgoing special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Gen Doug Lute, the special assistant to President Obama for the region, are expected to meet army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI chief Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam in Brussels next week.
A broad range of issues are expected to be discussed at the meeting, to be held on the fringes of the foreign ministerial meetings at the North Atlantic Council in Brussels, sources confirmed to The Express Tribune.
When asked about the meeting, a White House spokesperson said they had “nothing to announce at the moment”.
In Islamabad, a security official confirmed Gen Kayani’s scheduled meeting but would not say if Lt Gen Islam would also attend.
Last month, Gen Kayani took a whirlwind tour of Kabul where, besides attending a meeting of the Tripartite Commission, he had also met with President Karzai.
Gen Kayani had called for accelerating the Afghan peace drive, saying that stability in Afghanistan was in the interest of Pakistan, according to a statement from the Afghan presidential palace.
In Brussels, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also scheduled to meet her Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar on Tuesday.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told a press briefing that relations between Pakistan and the US are on a “firmer footing” and that the pace of interaction is almost back to normal.
“We still have a lot of work to do together that is in the interest of both of our countries in the region, particularly in the areas of counterterrorism, economic opportunity, etc. So we want to pursue all of those things in these sessions that we are having,” she said.
Nuland was corroborating what Foreign Minister Khar said last week. She told Reuters in an interview that Pakistan-US relations were repaired, including military and intelligence contacts.
“There was a fairly difficult patch and I think we’ve moved away from that into a positive trajectory,” she had said.
These meetings come on the heels of two visits by high-powered Afghan delegations to Islamabad last month where they sought support for the nascent peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
After the first visit by the Afghan High Peace Council, led by its chief Salahuddin Rabbani, Islamabad released eight low-ranking Taliban cadres from its custody in a bid to facilitate the Afghan peace process. Prior to the Islamabad tour, a delegation of the Afghan peace council had extensive talks with US officials in Washington.
On Friday, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul also secured an assurance from Islamabad that it would release more Taliban leaders who, Afghan officials believe, if freed, would help bring the militants to the negotiating table to work out an agreement before US-led foreign forces withdraw from the country by end 2014.
The flurry of diplomatic interactions appears to be a part of Pakistan’s efforts to facilitate a responsible US exit from Afghanistan where foreign forces have fought a deeply unpopular war for over a decade.
Pakistan wants the United States to have a responsible exit to keep regional peace and stability, Foreign Minister Khar told a news channel on Friday.
She said Pakistan’s role is to assist the Afghan government in achieving its objectives and responsible transition and that US exit is possible through process of reconciliation. (With additional input from news desk)
Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2012.