WASHINGTON: The US and Pakistani militaries began a week-long strategic dialogue on Sunday to explore the possibility of rebuilding a mutually beneficial relationship.

In doing so, both sides appeared eager to move away from unreal expectations and consequent disappointments of the recent past to an engagement based on ground realities.

“We look forward to having close and honest consultations” with the Pakistani army chief and his team, said Daniel Feldman, the Obama administration’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Pakistanis, while commending the US interest in “close and honest” talks, emphasise the need for an enhanced engagement.

Gen Raheel Sharif and his team — which includes director general military operations and the chief’s personal staff — arrived in the United States on Saturday and flew to the headquarters of the US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, on Sunday for two days military-to-military talks.

Ambassador Feldman, who visited Pakistan late last month for exploratory talks before the visit, said the United States was aware of Gen Sharif’s “commitment to protecting Pakistani lives and to making sure that Pakistani government has control over all of Pakistan”.

In an interview to VOA Deewa (Pashto) radio, he clarified that the US engagement with the Pakistani military would not affect its relationship with the civilian government in Islamabad.

“We have a strong relationship with civilian government and also want to have a strong relationship with the Pakistani military,” he said.

The Pakistani military team, which is accompanying the chief on his first official visit to the United States, has refrained from making public statements.

Pakistan, however, has clarified that it has not sent its military chief to the United States for seeking military aid or weapons. Instead, they want “a strong, long-term relationship based on the realisation that Pakistan is engaged in a full-fledged war against the militants and needs sympathy and support, not undue criticism”.

The Pakistanis want this relationship to be based on an enhanced understanding of their role in the war against terrorism and recognition of their sacrifices. They also want the Americans to recognise Pakistan’s concerns in Afghanistan and to trust their assurance that they too want stability and peace in Afghanistan as instability there hurts them as well.

Pakistan would also like US support in ensuring that the Afghan soil is not used for stirring troubles in Fata and Balochistan. They point out that the current military operation has taken care of US concerns in North Waziristan. The Haqqani network and their supporters have been disrupted.

They argue that while there may still be some isolated supporters here and there, the fact that the Haqqanis are not coming back shows the sincerity of the Pakistani effort.

The Pakistanis would also like the United States to probe their claim that India is supporting Baloch rebels and Taliban insurgents hiding in Afghanistan.

The Pakistanis claim that “Indian-supported, aided and abetted groups” are involved in creating troubles inside Pakistan.

According to them, thousands of Mullah Fazlullah’s fighters are camped in Kunar and Nuristan. Another militant leader, Maulavi Faqir, is camped in the Afghan territory across Bajaur while Mangal Bagh also crossed into Afghanistan and is operating from the border region.

The Pakistanis also see a ray of hope in the new government in Afghanistan. They believe that the new Afghan president understands the problem and seems serious in resolving it.

While stressing their sincerity to working with Kabul, the Pakistanis want the United States also to move away from the bitterness of the recent past and work with Pakistan to further strengthen the bilateral relationship.

The Pakistanis also emphasise the need for the US to move beyond Afghanistan and build a bilateral relationship not tied to other developments in the region.

They insist that Pakistan no longer has an India-centric view of its relations with Afghanistan and Washington should recognise this change. They point out that the entire world has noticed with concern recent developments along the India-Pakistan border where India has continued to increase tensions.

The Pakistanis also reject a recent Pentagon report saying that Pakistan has been using militant groups as proxies against India.

In the context, they urge the Americans not to highlight only India’s concerns but also to look closely at Pakistan’s concerns, particularly in Kashmir.

The Pakistanis also acknowledge a positive change in the US attitude towards Pakistan, appreciating an air of positivity and optimism they notice.

Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2014



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