WASHINGTON: Talks between US and Pakistani militaries moved to the Pentagon on Tuesday where Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif also met his host, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey.
Gen Sharif and his delegation received the US Army’s full honour guard when they arrived at the Pentagon for the second phase of their week-long visit to the United States.
After the ceremony, the Pakistani delegation attended a roundtable with the US delegation, which included Gen Dempsey and Deputy Secretary of Defence Robert O. Work.
The army chief and his delegation also had separate meetings with Raymond T. Odierno, Chief of Staff of the US Army and Gen Joseph F. Dunford, Commandant of the Marine Corps.
They could not meet US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel as he was out of Washington.
The talks focused on the situation in Afghanistan and on the military operation Pakistan launched earlier this year to destroy militant hideouts in its tribal belt.
A clarification from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs saved the Pakistani delegation from possible embarrassment over a statement by the prime minister’s senior adviser Sartaj Aziz.
In an interview to BBC on Monday, Mr Aziz said that Pakistan was not going to target militant groups that did not “pose direct a threat to the state”.
The statement, immediately picked by the US media, allowed some Pakistan experts in Washington to claim that Islamabad would continue to support the Haqqani network because it was only targeting US and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.
Some also claimed that the statement reflected a growing gap between the civilian government and the country’s defence establishment over the Afghan issue.
The Pakistani delegation plans to visit Capitol Hill on Wednesday to deliver the same message to US lawmakers: Pakistan has no favourites among the militants and wants to eliminate each and every terrorist group from its territory.
But the US media warned that the Pakistanis might “not find a particularly engaged audience” on the Hill.
“There doesn’t seem to be a huge level of interest in this trip,” a congressional aide told the Congressional Quarterly news service. But the same report acknowledged that despite “distractions and distrust”, the bilateral relationship “remains critical to both countries”.
The report said that Gen Sharif is expected to update the US lawmakers on progress in combating terrorists in North Waziristan and his country’s view of the situation in Afghanistan.
“Lawmakers also will want to hear what the general thinks about greater civilian control over Pakistan’s military,” the report added.
In an interview to Congressional Quarterly, Maj Gen Asim Bajwa, the chief spokesman for the Pakistani military, urged US lawmakers also to remember the sacrifices Pakistan had made in the war against terrorists.
“No one has given as much sacrifices and has paid as much cost as has Pakistan,” he said. “This is the understanding that needs to be built here and we only hope and appreciate if this understanding does exist.”
Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2014