August 03, 2012

U.S.-Pakistan spy talks called productive

By Pam Benson

The first meeting between the head of the Central Intelligence Agency and his new Pakistani counterpart was labeled "substantive, professional and productive" by a senior U.S. official.

CIA Director David Petraeus and Inter-Services Intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Zahir ul-Islam met Thursday at CIA headquarters in suburban Washington in an effort to bring the contentious relationship back on track.

The U.S. knows little about Islam, who rose through the ranks of the Pakistani military before being appointed to head the ISI in March by Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

The Pakistani government has been reassessing its relationship with Washington after a number of high-profile incidents last year, particularly the U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, of which the Pakistanis had no prior knowledge, and the accidental killing of Paksitani soldiers operating along the Afghanistan border by U.S. airstrikes in November.

The missile strikes by CIA-operated drones against suspected terrorists in the tribal areas has also irked Pakistani officials who publicly say the country's sovereignty is being violated and there are too many civilian casualties associated with the attacks. The U.S. has rejected the accusations.

According to a senior Pakistani intelligence official, Islam was expected to urge the U.S. to end its drone strikes and provide the Pakistanis with target information so that their forces can hit suspected terrorists.

The senior U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions would not comment on the specifics of the meeting, but said the discussions between Petraeus and Islam "provided an opportunity to discuss a number of proposals for how we can enhance our joint efforts against terrorism."

The official added, "Both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to work together to counter the terrorist presence in the region that threatens both U.S. and Pakistani national security."

Last week, a U.S. official told CNN the United States "supports the Pakistanis taking more responsibility for ridding the tribal areas of al Qaeda and its militant allies."

Without getting into specifics, the official said there were actions Pakistan could take to get rid of al Qaeda and the Haqqani network, a Pakistan-based militant group that launches strikes against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

During a trip to Afghanistan in June, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the Pakistani government needs to do more to root out the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network. Panetta emphasized U.S. frustration with attackers crossing the border from Pakistan and called on Pakistan to stop "allowing terrorists to use their country as a safety net in order to conduct their attacks on our forces."

"We have made that very clear time and time again and we will continue to do that, but as I said, we are reaching the limits of our patience," Panetta said.

The U.S.-Pakistan relationship has improved somewhat since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologized last month for the airstrike that killed the 24 Pakistani soldiers last year.

The Pakistanis responded by reopening the supply routes to Afghanistan that they had closed down in retaliation for the deaths.

CNN's Nasir Habib contributed to this report.

ISI chief holds talks in Washington on policy issues

From the Newspaper | Anwar Iqbal | 23 hours ago

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.

No comments: