WASHINGTON: The US-Pakistan-Afghanistan talks entered a crucial phase on Thursday when intelligence chiefs and military leaders from the three countries started shaping up a strategy for defeating terrorists in the Pak-Afghan region.
The talks followed a series of meetings on Wednesday among the leaders of the three countries – Presidents Barack Obama, Asif Ali Zardari and Hamid Karzai.
The two days of meetings were designed to better coordinate the Obama administration’s new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Although the media focused on the summit meetings, US officials stressed that they were more interested in the outcome of the talks among Afghan and Pakistani officials responsible for intelligence, defence, agriculture, law enforcement and diplomacy.
On Wednesday, President Obama held two sets of meetings with the Afghan and Pakistani leaders: the bilateral and then a trilateral summit aimed at improving coordination between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Later in the evening, Vice President Joe Biden hosted a dinner for the two leaders, attended by a large number of US civil and military officials, lawmakers and ambassadors of other nations based in Washington.
But what diplomatic observers in Washington are describing as the ‘real talks’ began on Thursday when CIA chief Leon Panetta met DG ISI Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha and his Afghan counterpart. Senior military commanders accompanying the Afghan and Pakistani delegates also met each other and their American counterparts.
Besides Mr Panetta, the Americans also included FBI Director Robert S. Mueller and, Central Command chief Gen. David H. Petraeus in the meetings, indicating that these ‘technical talks,’ although low-profiled, were as substantial as the summit.
US Agriculture and Treasury officials also held a series of meetings with their counterparts from Afghanistan and Pakistan to determine what specific assistance they could offer to the two countries.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later told the media that the head of these civil, intelligence and military agencies were finalising work plans with ‘specific’ goals in their areas of concern.
The military commanders and intelligence chiefs obviously focused on the military strategy to defeat the militants. Others focused on judicial reform, agricultural development, security and economic development, Secretary Clinton said.
Wednesday’s summit coincided with the release of a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross concluding that recent US airstrikes have killed dozens of Afghan civilians.
The report overshadowed the summit, forcing President Obama to offer condolences over the deaths to the Afghan president. Mr Obama also promised to investigate the airstrikes.
Although such strikes are carried out at targets inside Pakistan as well, President Obama and Secretary Clinton focused on the deaths in Afghanistan, making only passing references to the Pakistanis killed in the airstrikes.
Such strikes over the years have severely undermined Afghan and Pakistani governments and also have damaged the US effort to win over hearts and minds in the fight against extremism.
US National Security Adviser James L. Jones later told a briefing that in his meeting with President Zardari, Mr Obama outlined how he intended to help Pakistan’s development efforts.
The Obama administration is pushing a five-year, $7.5 billion economic assistance package for Pakistan, and last month the administration arranged an international donors’ conference in Tokyo that generated $5.5 billion in pledges.
Gen. Jones said President Obama asked Afghan and Pakistani leader to confront corruption and work on projects that directly improve the lives of people, such as schools and health clinics.
‘We must do more than stand against those who would destroy Pakistan,’ President Obama later told reporters. ‘We must stand with those who want to build Pakistan.’
The US media claimed that in the talks the Obama administration expressed serious concerns about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Some reports also claimed that Pakistan had shared with US authorities information about its nukes.
Both US and Pakistani officials, however, rejected the claims as incorrect, saying that no such information was shared.
Gen. Jones said that President Obama availed the opportunity to affirm his support for ‘the democratically elected governments’ of the two countries, although he avoided personally endorsing either man.
‘Mr Karzai faces re-election in August, and Mr Zardari is seen as deeply unpopular at home,’ said the Washington Post while explaining why Mr Obama avoided endorsing them.
President Obama, however, emphasised that ‘the security of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States were linked,’ saying his strategy to combat rising extremism through increased development aid and military support reflected that ‘fundamental truth.’
‘Now there’s much to be done,’ Mr Obama said at the White House, flanked by Mr Karzai, Mr Zardari of Pakistan and Vice President Biden.
‘Along the border where insurgents often move freely, we must work together with a renewed sense of partnership to share intelligence, and to coordinate our efforts to isolate, target and take out our common enemy. But we must also meet the threat of extremism with a positive program of growth and opportunity.’
Source: Dawn News