ISLAMABAD: The chief of ISI, Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, is leaving for Washington on Wednesday for talks with US intelligence and military officials on continuing cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
The unannounced visit is the most significant indication yet that both countries are ready to back down from brinkmanship that has become a feature of their relationship since the covert US attack which killed Osama bin Laden.
Gen Pasha’s visit, his first to the US after the May 2 Abbottabad raid that put the relationship into free fall, follows US Centcom Commander Gen James Mattis’s meetings with army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Chairman Gen Khalid Shameem Wynne in Rawalpindi on Tuesday.
The exchanges are taking place against the backdrop of a US move to withhold $800 million military aid for Pakistan.
Military sources say Gen Pasha will stay in Washington for a day. Although the exact nature of the visit and its agenda are not known, it is being said here that he is travelling to the US for intelligence coordination.
Gen Pasha’s trip also signifies that despite recent problems in ties the two sides remain united in the fight against terrorists.
“Like in the past, operations against Al Qaeda and its affiliates would continue,” an official said, adding that cooperation with the CIA against terrorists would remain unaffected because Pakistani leaders were convinced that terror groups were a common threat for the country and rest of the world.
The military also appears to be in a conciliatory mode.
While it avoided a sharp reaction to the US decision to suspend aid, a conference of corps commanders held on Tuesday, quite in contrast to the last meeting after which a hard-hitting statement had been issued, this time only reiterated the army’s commitment to fighting terrorism using its own resources.
“The forum reiterated the resolve to fight the menace of terrorism in our own national interest using our own resources,” a press release issued after the meeting noted without saying anything about the problems in the ties with the US, including the maligning of the army and ISI; and more recently the aid suspension.
But, in their conversations with Gen Mattis, who was on his fifth visit to Pakistan since becoming Centcom Commander last year, both Gen Kayani and Gen Wynne regretted that actions by the US and public pronouncements by American officials were constricting the already little space for cooperation.
A military source said that in his meetings Gen Mattis discussed the aftermath of the aid suspension, the Afghanistan situation and other matters related to regional security. That both Pakistan and the US were looking for ways to sustain their alliance against terrorism, despite the odds, was clear from a statement made by Ambassador Cameron Munter at the Pakistan National Arts Council.
“We sometimes see the world in different ways… and as I believe is true for our bilateral relationship, that even while we at times pass through rough patches, we can find a way to live together, to support each other and to prosper,” he said.