ISLAMABAD - A visiting American envoy held a crucial meeting with Pakistan’s military chief in a low-key interaction that is said to have largely focussed on the long contemplated full-scale military action in North Waziristan Agency (NWA.)
The meeting between Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and the United States Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman was reportedly held at the General Headquarters (GHQ) in the evening hours of Saturday.
Earlier, the same day, Grossman denied he was in the country to get it go for NWA operation. “No, I am here to continue the conversation we have been having with Pakistani leaders over the past several months,” he said in a talk show on the state-run PTV.
Hesitant to share pertinent details, the security officials sounded dismissive on discussions regarding NWA military offensive during the Kayani-Grossman meeting while diplomatic circles confirmed that the proposed military offensive in NWA was high on the agenda of the two big shots.
“Matters of mutual interest and peace and stability in Afghanistan were discussed during the meeting,” the officials said. Upon inquiring, an army brigadier said, the NWA operation “may have been discussed in the meeting but it is a routine matter.”
But, a former US diplomat now serving in an international organisation here said the American envoy had communicated to the Pakistan’s military chief that the US wanted an immediate launch of NWA operation.
“I guess there’s a growing feeling in Washington that Islamabad delays the NWA military action thinking ‘there would be a change of guards in Washington next month, so, let’s wait’,” he said, referring to the presidential election in the US scheduled for November 6.
“After the presidential poll, you know, a new administrative arrangement would come into affect that does not necessarily have to be the present one. So the pressure on Islamabad and all that would lessen quite a bit after the Americans go into choosing their president,” he said. “‘This is the right time for NWA action. The public sentiment in Pakistan is against Taliban. Let’s not wait for this to change’, that’s what many in Washington believe,” he added.
The ruling coalition in Pakistan was to move a resolution in the National Assembly on Tuesday supporting the launch of the military operation in North Waziristan but following intense opposition from Pakistan Muslim league-Nawaz (PML-N), a major opposition force, the said resolution could not be moved.
Credible reports suggest that the government might introduce the said resolution after the Eid, falling on October 27. The arrival of Grossman and his unannounced meeting with Pakistan’s army chief appear to have given credence to the reports of NWA offensive’s launch in the coming days.
But Grossman who, who arrived in Islamabad Saturday for talks with political and military leaders, insisted in his TV talk, “That (launching of NWA operation) is the decision for the Government of Pakistan and solely for the Government of Pakistan.”
The al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network in North Waziristan, blamed for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan, is one of the thorniest issues in relations between Islamabad and Washington. Washington has long demanded that Pakistan take action against the Haqqanis, whom the US also accused of attacking the US embassy in Kabul last year and acting like a “veritable arm” of Pakistani intelligence.
When asked, Grossman declined to comment on the issue of US drone strikes, saying “it is not a topic of conversation for me”. “What I would like to say is that Pakistanis and Americans can stand up together and declare the end of al-Qaeda in this region. That would be a great joint strategic effort and that I hope will come soon.”
US officials say the drone strikes are a key weapon in the fight against militants but peace campaigners condemn them as a breach of international law. Pakistanis call them a violation of sovereignty that breeds extremism, and politicians have accused the government of complicity in killing its own people.
Islamabad and Washington have been seeking to patch up their fractious relationship in recent months, with Pakistan allowing the reopening of the Nato supply route to Afghanistan, after a series of crises in 2011 saw ties between the “war on terror” allies plunge. But the attacks by unmanned US aircraft remain contentious and are deeply unpopular in Pakistan.
The US diplomat said the relationship between the two countries was “certainly back on track if you compare it with last year”. “What draws our countries together in this multi-faceted relationship is the fact that we are both victims of terrorism”, which is a scourge and “let us fight it together”.
Grossman on Saturday also held talks with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar which focused on a “wide range of issues of mutual interest particularly Pakistan-US relations and the regional situation”, according to an official statement.
At the meeting held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs “they also expressed the commitment to continue to work together in support of Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process and for progress and stability in the country”.
The statement said the foreign minister underlined the importance of a broad-based relationship between Pakistan and the US marked by deeper and wider cooperation in diverse fields, while the US envoy highlighted his country’s commitment to a long-term relationship with Pakistan based on mutual interest and mutual respect.
They both expressed satisfaction on the progress made by the Working Group on Law Enforcement and Counter Terrorism which recently met in Washington DC under the bilateral Strategic Dialogue framework. They expressed the hope that Working Groups on Economy and Finance and Energy and Water would meet soon, the statement said.