ISLAMABAD: The US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan was on Thursday able to cement the progress made by Senator John Kerry in his ice-breaking talks with Pakistani leadership earlier in the week and it was obvious that the two sides had agreed to continue to work together for the Afghan endgame while they tried to sort out their bilateral differences.
Although not much was said officially about the progress achieved in discussions Marc Grossman had with President Asif Ali Zardari, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar, Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI Director General Shuja Pasha, there were indications that his talks were successful in paving the way for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Islamabad for finalising the ‘new terms of engagement’ between uneasy allies in the fight against terrorism.
Analysts are of the opinion that State Department’s announcement of Secretary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan would mark the start of the process to reset the ties that have been in troubled waters since the start of this year and hit rock bottom when US acted unilaterally to kill Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
“Mr Grossman after his daylong engagements looked positive about the developments and thought things were moving in the right direction,” a journalist who had spoken to the special envoy said.Pakistani leaders had on Monday agreed with Secretary Clinton (during telephonic conversations) and Senator Kerry to put the derailed relationship back on track, while Mr Grossman was dispatched to Islamabad for detailed consultations.
“Today’s meeting was in the context of follow-up of Senator John Kerry’s meeting with the president on May 16 in which the two sides agreed to put the relations back on track and that the relations should go forward on the basis of mutual respect, mutual trust and mutual interest,” a statement from the presidency said.
And the military said: “During the meeting (with Gen Kayani), the visiting dignitary discussed future of Pak-US engagement concerning reconciliation process in Afghanistan.” Mr Grossman left Islamabad late in the evening with his seven-member delegation.
However, it is significant to note that a 20-member delegation of CIA led by its deputy chief Mark Morrell has stayed back and it will be continuing its dialogue with ISI officials on differences over counter-terrorism strategies and Afghan reconciliation.
Pakistan’s emphasis during all the meetings was on getting a categorical assurance that the US wouldn’t act unilaterally in future and would safeguard its interest in post-withdrawal Afghanistan.
“Before moving forward Islamabad wants clearly defined rules of engagement through which the US commits to respect Pakistani red lines and joint action against high-value targets in future,” a source familiar with conditions set by Pakistan said.
It is further said that military and intelligence sides are pressing the CIA to reduce its footprints in the country to a minimum and fully disclose its activities.
Pakistan is also wary of Indian dominance once the US departs from the war-torn Afghanistan.
Another source said it was apparent from Thursday’s talks that both sides had moved forward from the initial raw emotions after the May 2 Abbottabad raid and were eager to re-engage because they realise their interdependence.
Although the US side has been urging Pakistan to prove its sincere commitment to the war on terror, latest developments have shown that the Obama administration has tamped down the rhetoric and its officials are not only publicly stating that there was little evidence that senior Pakistani leadership knew about Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad but also opposing any aid cut.
Diplomatic observers suggest the US appears willing to commit that it will not take any unilateral action in future because their leaders believe there is nobody else who comes to the level of Bin Laden for which they should risk such an action.
Anwar Iqbal adds from Washington: The United States “at the highest levels, wishes to rebuild the bilateral partnership with Pakistan on terms that Pakistanis can accept,” says a message conveyed to Islamabad.
Insiders told Dawn that Mr Grossman delivered this message to Pakistan’s leaders when he met them on Thursday.
He made it clear to Pakistani leaders that the US was “pressing no threats or ultimatums” to Pakistan. Instead, he “underscored (America’s) respect for Pakistan’s sovereignty and a desire to cooperate in defeating terrorism on the basis of trust and mutual respect.”
Although Washington was slow to realise the impact of covert US raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, by earlier this week US military leaders also had started acknowledging that the Pakistanis had a reason to be hurt.
“If I were in Pakistani shoes, I would say I’ve already paid a price. I’ve been humiliated. I’ve been shown that the Americans can come in here and do this with impunity,” said US Defence Secretary Robert Gates.
“And I think we have to recognise that they see a cost in that and a price that has been paid.”