Pakistan′s ISI chief visits the US for talks | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 01.08.2012
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Pakistan's ISI chief visits the US for talks

The chief of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence has begun his first official US tour today, but does he have an offer for the US vis-à-vis the militant Haqqani network? Pakistan experts don't expect much on this.

It is the first time in about a year that the head of Pakistan's powerful spy agency, the ISI, is visiting the US.

US-Pakistani ties started to deteriorate after the assassination of al Qaeda's former head Osama bin Laden by US Special Forces in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad in a covert operation. A series of events, including the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a NATO border attack last November further exacerbated relations between the two countries.

In retaliation, Islamabad blocked key NATO supply lines to Afghanistan. But after the reopening of the lines in early July, relations have slowly begun to improve.

The Haqqani issue

Taliban militants take part in a training session in Pakistan's South Waziristan region along the Afghan border

The US accuses Islamabad of covertly supporting the militant Haqqani network

However, the resumption of NATO supplies does not mean that all is well between Washington and Islamabad, experts say. There are many other issues to be resolved between the two countries, and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency can play a big role in it, they believe. One of the most persistent issues is the Pakistan military's reluctance to go after the militant Haqqani network in the semi-governed northwestern Waziristan region, which borders Afghanistan. US officials have accused the ISI and the Pakistani army of supporting the network.

But does Lieutenant General Zaheer ul-Islam, who was appointed as ISI chief in March, have a new offer for the US regarding the Haqqanis?

"The US is going to resume the Coalition Support Fund for Pakistan soon, and the visit by the newly-appointed Director General of the ISI is also part of the process to enhance counter-terrorism cooperation with Washington. I am sure that General Islam is in Washington with a positive message," Ali K Chishti, a Karachi-based defense and political analyst told DW.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, and Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in Islamabad

The US has been using diplomatic channels to improve ties with Pakistan

The Washington-based Pakistani journalist Anwar Iqbal also thinks that General Islam's visit is important for counter-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"The US wants to dismantle al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. For that reason, the support of the ISI is crucial for the US," Iqbal told DW.

Iqbal said that despite the fact that the US did not fully trust the ISI, the only way it could get the agency to support its agenda is by negotiating with it.

On this part, Chishti said the Haqqani issue was still a major bone of contention between the US and Pakistan.

"Pakistan wants to bring the Haqqanis into negotiations regarding the future of Afghanistan after NATO forces withdraw from the country," said Chishti, adding that the US had somewhat softened its stance on the Haqqanis.

"The US administration is also not clear on the Haqqani issue, and there appears to be a disagreement between the Pentagon and the State Department. The Pentagon sees the Haqqanis as enemies, whereas the State Department wants to engage with them."

Policy change?

Pakistan's army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, right, and Pakistan ISI's former shief Ahmed Shuja Pasha

Military generals have a strong grip on defense and foreign policies in Pakistan

How different is General Islam from his predecessor General Shuja Pasha, and can he make a difference in his individual capacity as the new ISI chief?

Chishti is of the opinion that individuals do not matter when it comes to state affairs.

"The Pakistani military is an institution, hence, while there is a change of command, there won't be a change of policies," he said.

Bur Anwar Iqbal thinks otherwise. He told DW that both the US-envoy designate to Pakistan, Richard Olson, and the Pakistani ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman, had hinted at the policy change.

"Richard Olson and Sherry Rehman have hinted that Pakistan is rethinking its decades-old policy of 'strategic depth' for Afghanistan, through which it counter-balances India's influence in the region," said Iqbal, adding that the Pakistani military seems to be ready to look for alternative options for maintaining influence in Afghanistan other than supporting the Taliban.

Author: Shamil Shams
Editor: Sarah Berning

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