RAWALPINDI – In a vital step towards Nato supplies resumption, two top allied commanders held a crucial meeting with Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in the first formal Pak-US military contact at the top level after last year’s Salala incident.
General Kayani’s joint meeting with US Central Command (Centcom) Chief General James Mattis and International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) commander in Afghanistan General John Allen was apparently held on the pretext of discussing ‘inquiry’ into the Nov 26 attack and improving border coordination procedures. The development was however reported to have largely been in sequel to the purported Pak-US strategic understandings arrived at on the sidelines of Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) that concluded in Seoul on Tuesday.
Reportedly, the meeting also witnessed discussions on the resurgence of drone strikes in Pakistan’s north-western tribal belt with new strategy to be devised to this effect, in addition to taking up the debated recommendations of Pakistan’s Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) vis-à-vis future terms of strategic engagement with the United States.
“It is the first high level meeting after Salala incident and will focus on the inquiry into the incident and improvements in border coordination procedures,” Pakistan Army’s mouthpiece Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.
Isaf’s Military Spokesperson in Afghanistan Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson said the meeting was ‘crucially vital’ but refused to share any further details. “We may issue a media statement for you to get hold of (the matter),” he told this newspaper.
The Wednesday’s joint meeting between the top military commanders is reported to be part of Pakistan’s two-pronged strategy that envisages diplomatic and government-level deliberations followed by military-to-military contacts. The top government functionaries and diplomatic officials of both the states have previously held extensive negotiations to chalk out future terms of strategic engagement once Pakistani parliament’s decision in the aftermath of PCNS recommendations is arrived.
Reportedly, Pakistan’s military conveyed to the US that resumption of Nato supplies was linked to the unconditional apology from US over Nov 26 attack in Mohmand Agency at Salala that saw martyrdom of 24 Pakistani soldiers. Till last month, an off-the-record apology from Washington was on the cards but following rounds of extensive deliberations, Pakistan’s military, diplomatic and political leaderships are reported to have unanimously conveyed to Washington that nothing short of an official and unconditional apology would be acceptable considering the enormous public ‘rage’ and reaction in Pakistan on the cross-border attack.
A major breakthrough to this effect was reportedly arrived at in Seoul following purported confirmations by the US officials that Washington would apologise over Salala incident after Pakistani parliament formally demanded the same.
In addition, fresh agreement on drone strikes by means of ‘enhanced coordination’ also stands in the pipeline the modalities of which were discussed in Wednesday’s meeting. Pakistan seeks restricted US drones in Pakistan’s tribal areas with prior intelligence sharing and coordination. Pakistan’s military supports taking on the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants that have waged a war on the country’s security forces, through drone hits, according to informed officials.
The enhanced coordination would also allow Pakistani security agencies to identify the ‘unwanted’ militant groups in its borderlands to be taken out by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-led drone campaign in addition to targeting the militants that are battling allied forces in Afghanistan.
Moreover, resuming active military cooperation from the platform of Border Coordination Committee (BCC) at Pak-Afghan western border was also agreed upon during commanders meeting. The BCC set up through a tripartite agreement, monitors the working of Border Coordination Centres in the aforesaid region and is jointly managed by Pakistan Army, Isaf and Afghan National Army (ANA). The cross-border cooperation was completely disrupted after November attack and partially resumed earlier in February.
On February 8, the commanders from Isaf, ANA and Pakistan Army had showed up for BCC meeting in Torkham but the top military leaderships of the three forces did not participate in the event. Military Operations Director General Maj-Gen Ashfaq Nadeem had represented Pakistan then.
The regularised military cooperation between the three forces is likely following coming into effect the new terms of engagement that seek the Pakistani parliament’s formal nod before being taken up with Washington.
Pakistan also seeks assurances that incidents like Salala attack and cross-border incursions into Pakistani areas by Afghan militants would not be repeated. In return, Pakistan would be obligated to give adequate guarantees that its land would not be used for waging attacks against allied forces.
“The two US generals separately met army chief General Ashfaq Kayani and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Khalid Shameem Wynne,” in Rawalpindi, a senior Pakistani security official told AFP. He said “Pakistani army chief and US generals talked in detail about their respective positions on the air strikes last November and subsequent developments and discussed ways to improve border coordination procedures.”
The official said that the inquiry conducted into the incident also came under discussion, but did not give further details.
The two generals “discussed matters of bilateral and professional interests and the emerging geo-strategic situation”, during their meeting with General Wynne, the military said in a statement.
Pakistan vehemently rejected a NATO investigation that blamed the November attacks on mistakes made by both sides, insisting it had not been at fault.
Monitoring Desk adds: Senior US officers met with their Pakistani counterparts in Islamabad, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said. “The focus of the meeting was to discuss the US-Pakistani military relationship,” he said.
This is the first such meeting in Pakistan since late last year, although military leaders from both sides have maintained other contact, Little noted.
Little did not discuss details of Wednesday’s meeting, but said officials are hopeful that the ground supply routes will reopen soon. “They are important to our effort in Afghanistan,” he said.
Border coordination is much improved since the late-November incident, Little said. The Pakistani parliament is reviewing military relations with the United States, he added, and US officials are open to dialogue. “We believe strongly that the relationship with Pakistan is very important, and [this meeting is] a reflection of our commitment to the relationship,” he said.
A spokesman for the US Embassy in Islamabad said the meetings continued late Wednesday.
Pakistan military spokesman Gen. Athar Abbas declined to say whether the meeting Wednesday would result in the reopening of the supply routes. A Pakistan army statement said the meeting would focus on an inquiry into the November incident and how to improve border coordination.
According to Iran’s Press TV, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has rejected Washington’s claim that the US-led NATO airstrikes on November 26 were justified as self-defence. “In meetings with the US commanders, Kayani made it clear that the attack on the Pakistani security forces was the violation of country’s integrity and sovereignty,” a senior Pakistani military official told Press TV, on condition of anonymity.