ISLAMABAD: ISI chief Lt-Gen Zaheer-ul-Islam will leave for Washington on August 1 (Wednesday) to hold talks with his CIA counterpart David Petraeus, the first meeting between the spy chiefs amidst persisting tension between the two countries.
Lieutenant General Zaheer-ul-Islam would hold talks in Washington on August 1-3 with his CIA counterpart, a military statement said, with drone strikes expected to be a major issue. It is first time in a year that the chief of the ISI will make the trip, signaling a thaw in relations after US troops found and killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011. Lt-Gen Zaheer-ul-Islam, who was appointed in March, “will visit USA from 1st to 3rd August. This will be a service-to-service bilateral visit,” the statement said.
The short statement gave no other details, but a senior Pakistani security official earlier said that the chiefs of the respective spy agencies would discuss counter-terror cooperation and intelligence sharing.
Mr Islam would also demand an end to US drone attacks against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and again ask for the means for Pakistan to carry out the attacks instead, the security official said.
It has been expected that Mr Islam would visit the US in late July. It was not immediately clear why that trip did not happen. Islamabad has been increasingly vocal in its public opposition to the drone attacks. Pakistan’s leaders have quietly approved initially but now say they are the violation of sovereignty and insist they fan anti-US sentiments.
US officials are understood to believe the attacks too important to be given up, although the number declined as relations between the allies plunged to their lowest in a decade. But on July 3 Islamabad agreed to end a seven-month blockade on Nato supplies travelling overland to Afghanistan after the United States apologised for the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers in air strikes last November.
The Nato traffic has been temporarily suspended over the fears of Islamists’ attacks. On his maiden visit to the US after his appointment as the ISI chief, Mr Islam is also expected to raise recent incidents of cross border raids by militants based in Afghanistan.
Mr Islam is also expected to drive down to the Capitol Hill to meet top Congressmen, in particular the members of the intelligence and foreign affairs committees. He is expected to “strongly articulate” the viewpoint of ISI to the US lawmakers, who, of late, have been strongly critical of the spy agency’s role in the war against terror.
Sources familiar with the preparations of the ISI chief’s visit told media that Mr Islam would demand an end to drone strikes. “In lieu, he is likely to offer taking action against terrorist networks and “deploying F-16s” in the tribal areas, but would seek greater intelligence sharing from the US,” they said.
For the past a few years, the US has been reluctant in sharing intelligence information with Pakistan given its past experience that such information ultimately lands in the lap of the terrorist network or helps them take preventive actions. Pakistan has denied such allegations.