NEW YORK: Following intensive meetings between ISI chief Lieutenant General Zaheer-ul-Islam and his CIA counterpart David Petraeus, the two spy chiefs agreed on joint counter terrorism campaigns and operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.
During the series of meetings that also involved senior State Department and Pentagon officials, US and Pakistani officials hoped that the latest move would mark an upswing in cooperation after more than a year of “rancorous” relations, the major American newspaper reported.
“The campaigns would be intended to help stamp out major security threats facing each country, targeting what the US says are sanctuaries for the Haqqani network, and what Pakistan says are sanctuaries for the Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan,” the report said in a dispatch on the talks between senior officials.
The plans are considered, at best, promising, the dispatch said, pointing out that US officials have long pressed their Pakistani counterparts to target the Haqqani group, but without success.
The Wall Street Journal also quoted Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman as saying, “Pakistan’s democratic government is committed to moving forward with the US in many shared goals.” The envoy added that her government was working to reshape its relationships in the region. “Better ties with the US can help us in this broader goal of creating equities for peace instead of volatility in a region that is going through many security transitions.”
“It’s a good beginning,” Vali Nasr, a former top State Department official who is currently dean of the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University, said. He pointed out that in previous joint campaigns, Pakistan had requested that it be involved in all aspects of intelligence gathering. But the United States has been sceptical about Pakistani requests to share information about potential raids. “It’s always been a sticking point,” said Nasr, an American of Iranian origin.
Also discussed during the meeting was Pakistan’s demand for a halt to CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, but no agreement was reached on any changes to the programme, the Journal said, citing officials.
According to the dispatch, US and Pakistani officials both described this week’s meetings as productive and indicative of a higher level of trust than in previous meetings. Until now, counter terrorism negotiations between the sides have been largely on hold after US forces killed 24 Pakistani troops near Afghanistan’s border in November. As tensions rose over the US refusal to apologise for theincident, General Islam, the new Pakistani intelligence chief, deferred a June invitation from the CIA to visit Washington. A US decision to apologise for the Pakistani soldiers’ deaths jump-started talks over the highly contentious CIA drone programme.
Pakistan then announced that General Islam would make his first trip to Washington since becoming chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency in March. On Wednesday, Ambassador Rehman hosted a dinner at her residence for Lieutenant General Islam, CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell and top lawmakers on the House and Senate intelligence committees. There they discussed “mutual challenges” according to one participant cited by the WSJ.
On Thursday, CIA Director David Petraeus hosted a dinner for General Islam and Sherry Rehman. “Both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to work together to counter the terrorist presence in the region that threatens both US and Pakistani national security,” a senior US official said of the Petraeus-Islam meeting.
In meetings with CIA’s Petraeus and other officials, Lieutenant General Islam explained that US concessions on drones and the Taliban sites in Afghanistan would give Islamabad room to build domestic support for counter terrorism work with Washington. Under this proposal, the US would also work with Pakistan to control the Afghan side of the border, so militants driven out couldn’t escape into the Afghan border region.
The Pakistanis have named the planned offensive in North Waziristan as Operation Tight Screw, according to the WSJ. During this week’s meetings, Pakistani officials asked the US to target about a half-dozen Pakistani Taliban operatives, based in the Nuristan and Kunar provinces of Afghanistan, who Pakistan says have carried out dozens of attacks across the border, killing Pakistani soldiers.
Last year, the US military began scaling back its operations in remote parts of Nuristan and Kunar provinces as it focused its efforts on southern Afghanistan and Afghanistan’s major population centres, the Journal said. That allowed insurgents to re-establish enclaves in the areas where the Afghan army was unable to establish control. In meetings with US officials, the Pakistanis have also cast their plan as part of a counter-insurgency approach, which seeks to not just kill militants but build up the local economy and institutions to prevent militants from regaining a foothold, the newspaper said, citing officials.