Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, head of the ISI. - Photo by AFP (File Photo)

ISLAMABAD: Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Chief Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha’s visit to Qatar, home to US Centcom’s regional headquarters, has led to speculations about an ‘intelligence back channel’ between Pakistan and the US to reset troubled security cooperation.

Gen Pasha, whose overseas trips are not officially announced, is said to have returned on Wednesday from a trip to Qatar, which had been ‘authorised’ by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Mr Gilani had earlier this week himself disclosed Gen Pasha’s visit during a media interaction when he said he had approved the trip.

Mr Gilani would travel to Doha next month.

A western diplomatic source claimed that Gen Pasha during his stay in Qatar met the US officials.

The claim could not be independently verified.

Gen Pasha’s visit followed the release of Centcom’s preliminary report on the November 26 Nato attacks on Pakistani border posts.

Centcom Commander Gen James Mattis initially planned to visit Islamabad this week for sharing with the Pakistani military authorities findings of the probe, but had to cancel the visit after his hosts expressed their inability to receive him because of the situation at home, where anti-America sentiments are running high and a parliamentary body is working to review the terms of engagement with Washington.

No comments were available from military’s public affairs wing, the ISPR.

But diplomatic observers insist that indications from both Islamabad and Washington point towards an impending thaw in relations that went into a free fall after the Nato attacks.

While Gen Mattis directed Isaf (International Security Assistance Force) to improve ties with Pakistan and Pentagon hinted at possible punitive action against those responsible for the border incident — something desired by Pakistan Army, the Foreign Office on Thursday too spoke about efforts to mend ties.

“We are on speaking terms with the US. Doubtless there are problems but we are trying to put our relations on a track that is transparent and in sync with our aspirations. I am reluctant to discuss specifics,” FO spokesman Abdul Basit said at the weekly media briefing.

“We want to have a good relationship with the US, a relationship that is based on mutual trust and mutual respect,” Mr Basit said.

The FO has all along said that normalisation of ties will begin only after parliament completes the review of ties.

“Please wait for our parliamentary process to complete,” the spokesman said when asked about back channel diplomacy to end impasse in the ties.

The diplomatic observers are also attaching importance to the timing of Kabul’s withdrawal of objection to Qatar hosting Taliban’s office because the announcement came while Gen Pasha was in Qatar, supposedly talking to US officials.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai had on Tuesday for the first time agreed to setting up of the Taliban office in the Gulf state, something which he had all along opposed.

Cooperation between the US and Pakistan over Afghan reconciliation efforts too came to a halt after the border incident. Pakistan boycotted Bonn conference on Afghanistan earlier this month and the trilateral Pakistan-US-Afghanistan meeting was also cancelled because of strained ties.

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