WASHINGTON, Oct 4: The talks between Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali and US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld focused on all three issues that are a major cause for concern for the two allies in the war against terror, senior Pakistani and US officials said on Saturday.
The Americans, as the Pakistanis had expected, reiterated their request for troops for Iraq. The Pakistani delegation demanded security assurance against India’s growing military power. And together they reviewed the resurgence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda forces along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
“They understand our constraints on Iraq. They also understand that Pakistan does want to help them,” said foreign secretary Riaz H. Khokhar.
“They do understand our difficulties and are fully appreciative,” he added.
The Americans, however, appear eager to convince Pakistan to overcome its reservations and take the plunge. In the 45-minute talks that he held with Prime Minister Jamali and his delegation, Mr Rumsfeld said that 32 countries were already supporting the new US resolution seeking a peacekeeping force for Iraq and more than a dozen were likely to join the group soon.
The United States would like Pakistan to join the group of countries supporting the resolution, he is believed to have told Mr Jamali.
The prime minister told Mr Rumsfeld that Pakistan “has to take its parliament and the nation into confidence” on this proposal, said Mr Khokhar.
He said Mr Jamali also told the US defence secretary that “the Pakistani nation may take part in peacekeeping efforts in Iraq if the Iraqi people so desire. We are trying to address the issue.”
While Mr Jamali avoided making any commitment on this issue, he was more forthcoming on the problems Afghanistan is facing on its border with Pakistan.
The US side is believed to have conveyed its concerns to Pakistan on the resurgence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
They appreciated the support Pakistan had rendered in the fight against Al Qaeda, but said that some in the Bush administration believed that Islamabad was not equally effective against the Taliban.
“We told them that it makes no sense for us to attack the Al Qaeda and spare the Taliban. After 9-11, when Pakistan joined the war against terror, we have been fighting both,” said Mr Khokhar.
“We also told them that it was for the first time that Pakistani troops had gone into tribal areas and a rapid deployment force, equipped with helicopter gunships, is being used,” he added.
“We are pursuing the matter vigorously but such operations do take time,” said Mr Khokhar.
While on the issues of Iraq and Afghanistan, the differences between Pakistan and the United States appear surmountable; there clearly are concerns on the Pakistani side on Washington’s growing relations with India.
Mr Kohkhar said the Pakistani delegation told Mr Rumsfeld that the growing imbalance of conventional weapons between India and Pakistan was a cause for worry for Islamabad “and the US side took note of our concerns.”
Mr Rumsfeld, however, is believed to have told the Pakistani delegation that the United States wants its relations with India to become so strong that Washington could use it for improving Islamabad’s ties with New Delhi.
Earlier at the Pentagon, Mr Rumsfeld did not respond to any question from Pakistani journalists on the growing arms imbalance between India and Pakistan.
However, he did describe his meeting with Mr Jamali as “excellent” as he and Mr Jamali emerged from the sprawling US defence complex with big grins on their faces.
Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers also attended the meeting but did not accompany Mr Rumsfeld and Mr Jamali to the gate. Mr Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, did not attend the Pentagon meeting but represented the Pentagon in an earlier meeting between Mr Bush and Mr Jamali.
Instead of giving specific answers to the questions hurled at him, the US defence secretary chose to respond with the remarks aimed at pleasing the Pakistani media.
“I don’t know, when I’m visiting Pakistan next. But I have been visiting Pakistan since 1970s, in connection with my businesses. I have always enjoyed visiting your country,” he said.
Asked if he was satisfied with the support he was getting from Pakistan in the war against terrorism, Mr Rumsfeld said: “We have very good relations with Pakistan. They have been particularly cooperative in the fight against terrorism and Al Qaeda.”
“I have great respect for President Musharraf,” said the US defence secretary after his talks with Mr Jamali.
The prime minister was accompanied by federal ministers Shaikh Rashid Ahmad, Shaukat Aziz and Khurshid M. Kasuri, advisor Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, foreign secretary Riaz H. Khokhar, and Pakistan ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi.
Earlier on arrival, the Prime Minister received a guard of honour from a contingent representing the US Army, Navy, the Air Force and the Marines.