ISLAMABAD - General Lloyd Austin, Commander of the United States Central Command (US CENTCOM), called on Secretary Defence Lieutenant General (Retd) Asif Yasin Malik, a press release said Friday. The CENTCOM Commander said that both Pakistan and USA were ‘important’ to each others’ national interests. He added that Pakistan had always been a ‘useful’ partner and relations between the two countries are progressing on an upward trajectory.

Asif Yasin reiterated that being a pivotal partner to the international community, Pakistan had sacrificed greatly in the war against terror. He asserted that Pakistan wanted peace in the region and was ready to play its role for achieving the goal of lasting stability.

The visiting US general acknowledged the role played by Pakistan. He said that consultative forums like DCG have helped in cementing military to military relations aimed at improving peace and stability in the region. He further added that continued support in training, education and Coalition Support Fund will act as tools necessary to keep relations on solid footing.

Richard Olson, US Ambassador to Pakistan, was also present in the meeting.

Online adds: In an indication of the ‘positive trajectory’ of the bilateral ties, the US has issued a waiver, second in six months, for sale of major defence equipment to Pakistan citing national security interest.

The waiver, issued quietly by the then Deputy Secretary of States Thomas Nides on February 15 and posted on the State Department’s website a week later on February 22, would pave the way for some major defence equipment sales to Pakistan.

“The department issued the waiver because we are determined that assistance is important to the national security interests of the United States and is a critical component of the US efforts to continue to build a strong, mutually beneficial relationship with Pakistan grounded in concrete action on areas of shared interest,” a State Department spokesperson told PTI.

The waiver, issued within a fortnight of Secretary of State John Kerry taking the reins of US diplomacy on February 1, allows for the execution of America’s Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programme, and for the sale or export of certain Major Defence Equipment (MDE).

“Major Defence Equipment,” means any US manufactured defence article whose export is controlled by US Munitions List which has a nonrecurring research and development cost of more than $50,000,000 or a total production cost of more than $200,000,000. These items require Congressional notification, the spokesman said.

“As a matter of policy we do not discuss proposed defence sales or transfers until they have been formally notified to Congress,” he said, refraining to give any figure to the expected sale of major defence items to Pakistan after this waiver.

According to a known South Asia expert, the two waivers issued by the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in September were sweeping and so allowed the release of all forms of assistance for the fiscal 2012 including non-military.

It seems the main purpose of the February 15 waiver was to create a positive atmosphere for meetings in Washington DC with visiting senior military officials from Pakistan.

“These waivers don’t represent an improvement in US-Pakistan relations rather these represent attempts to improve ties,” an expert said, adding, that from the US perspective, some level of working relations with Pakistan was necessary for the pullout from Afghanistan to go smoothly.

Observing that security assistance builds Pakistan’s capabilities in countering terrorism, the State Department official said that such assistance would continue to be implemented consistent with the US policy goals of supporting Pakistan’s shared interest in regional stability and countering terrorism.

“Despite the past challenges in our bilateral relationship with Pakistan, we are encouraged by recent engagements which indicate the positive trajectory of the relationship, including productive working group meetings addressing full range of the relationship and Pakistan’s participation in Core Group meetings with Afghanistan,” the spokesperson said.

“As we have said, our number one shared priority remains pursuing our counterterrorism objectives to secure the safety of American and Pakistani citizens. We face a common threat from a common enemy, and we must confront terrorism and extremism together,” the official asserted.

In a two-paragraph notice to US exporters posted on the website on February 22, the Directorate of Defence Trade Controls of the State Department said Section 203 of the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-73), which is more popular as Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill, prohibits for fiscal years 2012-2014 the issuance of export licences for major defence equipment to be exported to Pakistan absent an appropriate certification or waiver under Section 203 in the fiscal year.

“On February 15, Deputy Secretary Thomas Nides signed a waiver of these prohibitions for the current fiscal year. DDTC is now reviewing all license applications for export to Pakistan of defence articles, including major defence equipment, on a case-by-case basis,” said the notification.

Under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill the US can’t approve sale of major defence equipment to Pakistan unless the Secretary of State either gives a waiver under national security interest or certifies that Pakistan is continuing to cooperate US to dismantle supplier networks relating to the acquisition of nuclear weapons-related materials, and has demonstrated a sustained commitment and is making significant efforts towards combating terrorist groups.

The bill requires the secretary of state to certify that Pakistan has made progress on matters such as ceasing support, including by any elements within the Pakistan military or its intelligence agency, to extremist and terrorist groups, particularly to any group that has conducted attacks against United States or coalition forces in Afghanistan, or against the territory or people of neighbouring countries.

It also requires the State Department to certify that Pakistan is taking steps to prevent al-Qaeda, the Taliban and associated terrorist groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, operating from the territory of Pakistan, including carrying out cross-border attacks into neighbouring countries, closing terrorist camps in the FATA (federally administered tribal areas), dismantling terrorist bases of operations in other parts of the country, including Quetta and Muridke, and taking action when provided with intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.

Among other things the State Department also needs to certify that Pakistan is strengthening counterterrorism and anti-money laundering laws; and that the security forces of Pakistan are not materially and substantially subverting the political or judicial processes of Pakistan.

However, under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill, these conditions could be waived off by the Secretary of State under national security interests.