Feb 21, 2009

‘Washington talks’ to influence future US strategy

WASHINGTON: Two Pakistani delegations are arriving in Washington this weekend for talks that may profoundly influence the war against militants in the Afghan-Pakistan region.
Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani reaches the US capital on Saturday evening while Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi arrives on Sunday.
Gen. Kayani’s visit is not linked to the tripartite talks that the foreign minister will attend, along with his Afghan counter-part. The army chief was invited by his American counterpart and his visit was finalised long before the US proposed the tripartite talks.
But US special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, said earlier this week that the United States will raise its concerns over the Swat peace deal at ‘very high levels’ with the representatives of the Pakistani military, indicating that this may also come up during Gen. Kayani’s meetings in the US.
The Americans also intend to discuss their future strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan with the Pakistani army chief, diplomatic sources told Dawn.
While the foreign minister is only visiting Washington, Gen. Kayani will also visit US military bases in other cities.
Mr Qureshi’s delegation includes Director General ISI Ahmed Shuja Pasha and Director General Military Operations, Pakistan Army, Maj. Gen. Javed Iqbal.
During his three-day visit the foreign minister will meet his US counterpart, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Ambassador Holbrooke and Co-Chair of the Policy Review Panel Bruce Riedel.
He will also meet National Security Advisor General (rtd) James Jones and other senior members of the Obama Administration.
Earlier Saturday, the foreign minister told reporters in Islamabad that he will try to remove US concerns over the Swat peace deal.
The Pakistani delegation will participate in the review process of the future US strategy for fighting terrorism in South Asia.
Besides the United States, which is hosting the talks, both Afghanistan and Pakistan are sending senior civil and military officials to participate in the talks.
The United States had also invited India but India has declined the offer. Although New Delhi said it was not coming because it did not want to interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, media reports from the Indian capital said India was unhappy because it was only offered a ringside seat.
An Indian official told reporters in New Delhi that India will watch the proceedings as an ‘interested bystander.’
India, however, has sought and received assurance from the United States that there will be no talks on Kashmir during the policy review.
The deputy spokesman for the US State Department, Gordon Duguid, said both Afghanistan and Pakistan will ‘provide input into our review policy’ on fighting terrorism in their region.
In Washington, diplomatic observers are describing the tripartite talks as Ambassador Holbrooke's first exercise in the US’ attempt to stabilise the Afghan-Pakistan region since his appointment about a month ago.
The participants could also explore the possibility of an eventual deal with some version of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Ambassador Holbrooke, however, has rejected a similar deal Pakistan is negotiating with the militants in Swat.
The Obama administration, however, is also frustrated with the Karzai government for its failure to bring peace to the war-ravaged country and for the wide-ranging corruption that plagues the US-backed regime.
Some diplomatic observers in Washington say that the Obama administration does not want to back President Hamid Karzai in the next elections scheduled in May.
Instead, the US could back one of the four invitees from Afghanistan — former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, former interior minister Ali Ahmed Jalali and governor of Nangarhar Gul Agha Shirzai – as an alternative candidate for the next election.
Meanwhile, Secretary Clinton assured President Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday that the United States will continue to support Pakistan’s efforts to eradicate terrorism.
Secretary Clinton made this commitment in a call to President Zardari in China. Both leaders are in China but they are in two different cities.
According to diplomatic and US sources in Washington, Mrs Clinton told the Pakistani leader that the United States appreciates Pakistan’s efforts to fight terrorism and wants to provide all possible assistance to help Islamabad win this war.
She also said that she was looking forward to meeting Foreign Minister Qureshi in Washington on Monday.

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