Free Press Journal

Pakistan army chief’s US visit to focus on Afghanistan, peace talks


Islamabad: Pakistan’s powerful army chief General Raheel Sharif during his US visit this week will hold talks with top defence officials and discuss key issues like the Afghanistan situation, facilitating peace parleys with the Taliban and Indo-Pak ties, officials said today.

General Raheel, during his visit from November 15-20, will meet top American defence officials amid indications that the US wants Pakistan to revive reconciliation talks with the Afghan Taliban, considered close to the spy agency ISI. Significantly, Raheel is visiting the US on his own as there was no official invitation either from his American counterpart or the Pentagon. A Pakistani official said Pakistan is ready to play its role in the reconciliation process but the statements by Afghan government blaming the country for the recent deadly attacks by the Taliban have vitiated the atmosphere.

“The issue of peace in Afghanistan will be part of talks in Washington and Pakistan will like to have assurance of action against militants involved in attacks in return for pushing Taliban for talks,” the official said on condition of anonymity. Pakistan has been demanding action against militants like chief of Pakistani Taliban Mullah Fazlullah, who is allegedly hiding in Afghanistan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said last month that his government was trying to arrange talks with the Taliban but nothing concrete has come out so far.

Earlier, the first open round of talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban were held in Murree near Islamabad in July and another round scheduled later was cancelled when the news of Taliban supremo Mullah Omar’s death surfaced. Raheel will also brief the US officials about security relations with India after deadly border clashes in recent months raised fears that the conflict might spiral out of control, officials said.

Raheel would meet Vice President Joe Biden. Other meetings that he would have during his stay in Washington include with Secretary of State John Kerry, Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Joseph Dunford, Army Chief of Staff Gen Mark Milley and Director CIA John Brennan. It is believed that civil-military relations in Pakistan will also be discussed with the US having a deep interest in maintaining democracy in Pakistan, which has history of military coups.

The US has been concerned about the development of tactical nuclear weapons by Pakistan, which Islamabad considers as a reliable source of defence against India. The military-to-military ties and Pakistan’s defence are also expected to be discussed in the talks. The two sides also expected an exchange of views on an alliance against the Islamic State in the backdrop of the Paris attacks that claimed over 120 lives. Raheel’s trip comes within a month after Prime Minister Sharif visited the US and held talks with President Barack Obama. It is Raheel’s second visit to the US after he traveled to Washington last year.