WASHINGTON: Intense discussions lasting about two and a half hours between US Vice President Joe Biden and Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif at the White House on Thursday have spurred widely believed speculation that the US side now understands Pakistan better.
“Not just our international and regional, but even domestic constraints and compulsions in the war against terror are also very clearly understood in Washington and most of them agree with our outlook,” a highly-placed member of the civil and military team said after meeting Joe Biden.
As against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s recent visit and meeting with President Obama, the nature of talks between the US national security team and top Pakistani generals, as one diplomat put it, “meant real business, thrashing out the nitty-gritty.”
General Raheel met almost every tier of the US security, civil and military establishment, beginning at the CIA and ending at the NSA on Friday before flying off to Brazil and in between these meetings he saw the full spectrum of US politicians and decision makers on The Hill.
A member of his team said “there was complete understanding of our positions on both the Republican and Democratic party sides” while the military understood that Pakistan had to play a critical role in the Afghan solution and thus had to be helped and not distracted by others playing dirty games.
This position was articulated by chief spokesman Lt Gen Asim Bajwa in his media briefing who said the US now sees Pakistan “not from the Indian prism” but as a country which had to be handled independent of others.
One interpretation of this comment was that this could mean that the Indians may be quietly told to let the US and Pakistan work out contours of a regional reconciliation policy in Afghanistan “in peace.”
Army chief Gen Raheel also referred to these developments in his address to the Pakistani community on Thursday night which was marred by a lot of confusion about whether it could be, or should be, reported by the media.
We were first told that the speech would be off-the-record. No phones, recorders and even pads and pens were allowed in the hall. Everyone heard in rapt silence and a lot of ovation was given when Gen Raheel made some comments about the ongoing operations and the will of the army to take them to the logical conclusion, come what may.
Then the army chief visited every table to meet guests and when he came to the media table he was politely asked why his speech had been barred from the media. He laughed off the suggestion and referred the matter to Gen Bajwa, who said a briefing was to be given soon.
He did brief the media and gave salient points of the visit, the talks and the speech. But then a TV channel started reporting Raheel’s speech in news tickers and confusion was compounded.
The main points of the speech were picked up by other TV channels and nothing was left off the record. The Pakistan Embassy joined the fray on Friday morning by issuing a censored and tailored version of the speech.
What the embassy missed out were references made by Gen Raheel on the ongoing operation in Pakistan and discussion of internal civil-military relations was totally off the table.
The embassy press release stated: “General Raheel Sharif expressed the unflinching commitment of the armed forces to ensuring peace and security in the country as well as in countering the external threats. He asserted that the Armed Forces of Pakistan would take the war against terrorism to its logical conclusion and would not let the sacrifices of martyrs go in vain.”
What the embassy tried to omit were the very explicit and categorical remarks by Gen Raheel that the financiers, abettors, helpers and supporters of terrorism will be pursued at a great speed and there was no time to waste.
This obviously referred to some of the high-profile cases now being pursued but this was not something which had not been said earlier by the army many times. So why ban it now.
Gen Raheel repeated this twice, once at the beginning and then ending his speech.The security at the event was so tight that even a top level delegation of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), now visiting the US, was kept out as there were no seats available.
But curiously two very controversial men made their way to the banquet hall, one named in the current Dr Asim Hussain investigation of money laundering and another brother of a PPP minister who was named in the Ayyan Ali money laundering case.
What these guys were trying to do was not clear and who let them in, with such tight security around, is also a mystery.
But the tone and confidence of Gen Raheel to continue with the operation in Pakistan assured the audience, which gave him a big ovation. It was clear that soon the pace of the operations will pick up speed and at one point the army chief used the specific words: “No reversal, come what may.”
A general in his delegation quietly said this freight train of the ops was “without a reverse gear and even without brakes.”The official briefing by Gen Bajwa indicated the Afghan “recon” policy, a word used repeatedly in talks and speeches, will pick up pace and regional moves will be soon visible.
This was also true for the operations against the financiers and supporters of terrorists and he told his briefing “You will soon see the pace and the priorities that have been decided.”When I asked Gen Bajwa at his briefing if he could specify what are the elements of the priority list which the army thinks have not yet been addressed with speed, he said: “Don’t let us give out our strategy to the enemies. You will see what happens soon.”