U.S. generals to hold first Pakistan talks for months
Visiting US generals will Wednesday hold the first talks in months with Pakistan’s army chief in a further sign that the troubled alliance between the two countries is getting back on track.
The visit by General James Mattis, the head of US Central Command, and General John Allen, the US commander of NATOtroops in Afghanistan, is the first since US air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November.
The raid prompted Pakistan to close its Afghan border crossings to NATO supplies and evict US personnel from an airbase reportedly used as a hub in America’s drone war against Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants on Pakistani soil.
The crisis and the clandestine American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last May pitched the strained alliance, forged in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in 2001, almost to the point of rupture.
But after a cooling down period, there are growing signs that both sides are keen to reset the relationship, albeit on more pragmatic terms.
US President Barack Obama and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met on Tuesday at a nuclear summit in Seoul, which an Obama aide said “made important progress” in both sides hearing directly from one another.
Pakistan’s parliament is also debating a series of recommendations, which demand an end to US drone strikes, an American apology and taxes on NATO convoys, in a likely precursor to reopening the Afghan border.
Pakistan’s army said Wednesday’s meeting would focus on “improvements in border coordination procedures” and the inquiry into the air strikes.
US and Pakistani officials frequently trade blame for Islamist insurgencies plaguing Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan.
A Pakistani security official, speaking to AFP confirmed that the American generals had arrived in Pakistan, but declined to give any further information until after the meeting had taken place later in the afternoon.
Pakistan vehemently rejected a NATO investigation that blamed the November attacks on mistakes made by both sides, insisting it had not been at fault.
On Tuesday, thousands of Islamists from right-wing, religious and banned organisations demonstrated outside parliament, calling on the government not to resume NATO’s transit rights to landlocked Afghanistan.
The 130,000 foreign troops fighting a 10-year battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan are reliant on fuel, food and equipment brought in from outside — nearly half of which used to come through Pakistan.