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US silent on visit of Asfandyar

May 10, 2008


WASHINGTON, May 9: ANP president Asfandyar Wali spent Friday with American military officials at the US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, diplomatic sources told Dawn.

Earlier, he spent a week in Washington where he met senior officials at the State Department, the White House and the vice president’s office.

At the State Department, he is believed to have met Deputy Secretary Negroponte although the department is refusing to confirm or deny the meeting.

It is not clear who he met at the White House or at the vice president’s office.

US officials are completely silent on the visit and are refusing even to offer any comments. Although Mr Wali has several relatives and party member in the Greater Washington Area, they too are refusing to talk.

The ANP leader came to Washington earlier this week with a four-member delegation which includes him, Afrasayab Khatak, Saquibullah Chamkanai and Bushra Gauhar.

ANP sources, when pressed for comments, said that publicizing their engagements in Washington could endanger the lives of the visitors when they return home.

“Nobody in the Pashtun areas likes open association with the Americans,” said one such source. “At some places in the Pashtun belt, embracing an American could mean embracing death.”

Even the Pakistan Embassy refused to talk about the visit, saying it was a private affair and does not involve the embassy.

Other sources told Dawn that the delegation is here as part of a visitors programme that brings important people from other nations for meeting US civil and military officials and members of the civic society.

They noted that the ANP president was the first head of a ruling coalition party to visit the US after the formation of the new government in Pakistan.

According to them Mr Wali briefed top US officials on the new government’s efforts to seek a negotiated settlement to insurgency in the tribal belt. As a prominent Pashtun leader, Mr Wali plays a key role in these talks.

In recent briefings, US officials have underlined that ANP’s victory in the previous elections gives them the hope that the talks could produce “positive” results.

They noted that previous talks failed because the NWFP was ruled by a religious coalition sympathetic to the Taliban when the talks were held.

This is Mr Wali’s second trip to the US since 2006 when he came here for talks on the US anti-terrorism policy. He had visited the Centcom Headquarters during his 2006 visit as well.