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ISI chief holds talks in Washington on policy issues

August 02, 2012

WASHINGTON, Aug 2: ISI chief Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam had an important policy meeting at the State Department on Thursday with President Barack Obama’s special coordinator for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Lt Gen Douglas E. Lute.

US Special Envoy Marc Grossman also attended the meeting. “Both sides stated their positions on various issues,” said an official source, “expressing their desire to rebuild this important relationship”.

The ISI chief arrived in Washington on Tuesday for talks with CIA director David H. Petraeus and other senior US officials. His meeting with the CIA chief began late on Thursday afternoon.

On Wednesday night, Gen Islam met CIA deputy director Michael J. Morrell at the residence of Pakistan’s Ambassador Sherry Rehman. This was his first meeting with a senior CIA official before the formal talks with Gen Petraeus at the CIA headquarters.

“Both sides are focusing on increasing intelligence cooperation between the United States and Pakistan,” said an official source when asked what was discussed in these meetings.

The dinner at Ambassador Rehman’s residence also attracted congressional heavyweights including chairs of the Senate Intelligence Committee Dianne Feinstein and the House Intelligence Mike Rogers. Ranking members of the two committees were also present.

Senator John Kerry, who chairs the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, also dropped in for a long pre-dinner conversation, despite a prior engagement.

Since lawmakers and officials from the intelligence fraternity outnumbered other guests, the discussion focused on mutual challenges the countries faced in promoting greater cooperation between their intelligence agencies.

They also discussed various options for dealing with joint concerns in the war against terror.

There were no discussions on operational details as the two intelligence chiefs were dealing with such details at their closed-door meeting at Langley, the CIA headquarters in Virginia, sources said.

“Broad strategic issues, and opportunities for new beginnings,” said the official source when asked about the main subjects that the conversations revolved around.

Although details of Gen Islam’s meeting with US officials on Thursday were not released, the Pakistani side is believed to have asked for an end to drone strikes in Fata.

Official sources said the Pakistanis wanted “a clear understanding on the drones, no wink and no nod”.

The Pakistanis argue that the strikes had become counter-productive because they also killed a large number of civilians. The Pakistanis also argue that the strikes are increasing anti-American feelings in their country, and thus are not helping in “winning over hearts and minds”, the stated main objective of the war against terror.

Commenting on the talks between the two intelligence chiefs, the official Voice of America radio noted that “little is expected to come out of the latest closed-door discussions on anti-terrorism cooperation”.

Underlining the differences between the two sides, the official US radio reported that “Washington refuses to stop using drones against militants in Pakistan or share the technology with Islamabad. At the same time, US officials continue to pressure Pakistan to go after militant safe havens in its territory”.

“Common ground may be harder to find… at a time of American frustration and distrust toward the ISI,” The New York Times observed.

But the BBC noted that the general’s Aug 1-3 visit was “just the latest indication of a thaw in relations” that have shown signs of improvement since Pakistan reopened Nato supply lines last month.