ISLAMABAD: Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen will meet in Spain later this week on the sidelines of a Nato conference to inject fresh momentum into efforts for normalising military ties between the two countries after months of friction.
The commanders will be in Seville (Spain) for Nato’s Chiefs of Defence annual conference on Sept 16-17.
Capt John Kirby, spokesman for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed that the two “would be having a conversation in Spain”.
The meeting wouldn’t just be a farewell meeting between Gen Kayani and Admiral Mullen, who is retiring later this month, and as Capt Kirby said it would involve “substantial discussions”.
The two are expected to discuss a wide range of issues, particularly those that soured the ties in the aftermath of the May 2 raid on the Osama bin Laden compound but, according to one source, the highlight would be formalisation of an accord on return of US military trainers, who were expelled from Pakistan in an angry reaction to the raid.
“We would tell them how many trainers we require and in which areas,” a senior Pakistani official said in a clear indication that the military had reviewed its hard line position on trainers’ presence in the country.
Ties between Pakistan and US militaries worsened after the Abbottabad incident, but army’s decision to send back the American trainers sent the relationship into a free fall.
The number of trainers was initially cut from 130 to 39 and subsequently to four. At one stage the relationship became so toxic that even the strength of the media section of the US Office of Defence Representative in Pakistan was slashed. In retaliation the US partially suspended military aid for Pakistan.
But over the past few weeks the relationship has been on an upward trajectory as reflected by the statements issued by both sides after the arrest of senior Al Qaeda operative Sheikh Younis Al Mauritani, a close confidant of Osama bin Laden and the central character of the terror group’s ‘Europe plot’ last year, from Quetta in a joint ISI-CIA operation.
Gen Kayani’s meeting with Admiral Mullen, who skipped Pakistan during his farewell visit to the region, is in itself an indicator that things are improving.
A military officer, who is regularly briefed on developments in ties with the US military, concurred that “the relationship was in much better shape now” and said it was because of their communication.
Top US commander in Afghanistan Gen John Allen visited Rawalpindi last week.
Gen Kayani and Admiral Mullen are likely to have detailed discussions on Afghanistan in the context of reconciliation with Taliban insurgents and upcoming Istanbul and Bonn conferences.
Both Pakistan and the US agree on having a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan, but differ on the route to achieving it and the groups to be engaged in the political process.
Seville Conference: Nato Chiefs of Defence will confer on progress of transition in Afghanistan and Nato involvement in the country after the completion of coalition withdrawal in 2014.The commanders will also take stock of Nato cooperation with Pakistan.
General Kayani will brief his counterparts on Pakistan’s perspective of how the strategic partnership and cooperation between Nato-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, ANSF and Pakistani Army was progressing from a political and military strategic viewpoint.