Pakistan, US initiate talks on bilateral issues

Pakistan, US initiate talks on bilateral issuesMuhammad Saleh Zaafir

In a breakthrough development, Pakistan and United States have initiated negotiations on intricate bilateral issues, and Washington has designated Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides as its point-man for the talks while Federal Finance Minister Senator Dr Hafeez Shaikh will have interaction on behalf of Islamabad.

Hafeez Shaikh and Thomas Nides have discussed course of action for the steps to be followed. The question of restoration of ground lines of communication (G-LOC) for Nato would also be sorted out by these two. The contacts between the defence establishments of the two countries are still at the lowest ebb as the visit of new Director General Inter Services Intelligence (DG ISI) Lt General Zaheerul-Islam to the United States has also been put off; he had to proceed to Washington during this week on the invitation of his counterpart CIA chief David Petraeus. No new schedule has been made for the sojourn of the ISI chief for Washington.

Highly placed western diplomatic sources told The News here Sunday that a senior diplomat, currently posted in the US embassy in Kabul, Olsen, has been nominated by the State Department for the posting as new US ambassador vice Cameron Munter in Islamabad. Munter, who has returned from Chicago to Islamabad, is engaged in packing as he will be leaving for Washington for good towards the end of next month. The Deputy Ambassador Richard Hoagland was busy in talks with the senior officials in Islamabad, and now Thomas Nides have been asked to pick the thread. His interlocutor in Pakistan is comfortable about the fresh contacts between the two capitals and hopeful of moving forward any soon, the sources said.

The sources claimed that the meeting between visiting President Asif Zardari with the US Secretary of State, Ms Hillary Clinton, in Chicago was productive, and the two sides were expecting tangible outcome, but no progress was made in the aftermath of the talks. The White House is not in a mood to budge, and for the reason the State Department is also facing difficulties in making some progress. Pakistan ambassador to Washington Sherry Rehman established contacts with the White House and State Department to get something out in difficult situation. She was not available for comments.

The sources reminded that it is for the first time that the major departments in Washington are simultaneously annoyed about dealing by Pakistan. The Department of Defence and Pentagon for the first times has not favourably disposed towards Pakistan. It has made the things difficult in Pakistan for the defence authorities. The defence budget for the next fiscal year is bound to see a raise of more than 13 percent. The defence allocations for the current fiscal years were increased before the beginning of the year to Rs495.2 billion for 2011-12 compared to previous year’s Rs444.2 billion.

The sources claimed that Dr Shakil Afridi’s sentence has created havoc for Pakistan in Washington’s corridors of power, including those on the Hills. They are contending that Osama bin Laden (OBL) had some official protection and for the reason Dr Shakil has been treated so harshly as he helped in locating OBL. All the senior officials are throwing fire on Pakistan in Washington. The officials aren’t prepared to listen to Pakistan’s position despite Washington Post has also advised to hear what Pakistan says about it. Pakistan is talking of the law but the US officials are terming it achieving a goal. In another untoward development Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, who is known friend of Pakistan has also distanced from Pakistan after the verdict in Dr Shakil Afridi case.

The sources pointed out that Thomas Nides and Hafeez Shaikh will not be visiting each other capitals soon, but they are hectically engaged about the task that has been assigned to them. Senator Hafeez Shaikh had meeting with Prime Minister Gilani Sunday evening without a prior schedule, and he reported him about the development. The two countries are expected to continue the talks this week to carve out a new framework under which G-LOC could be resumed. Senator Hafeez Shaikh has been asked to proceed ahead despite his hectic engagements with budget making, the sources said.

Islamabad has refused to lift the ban until Washington agrees to tender apology on the martyrdom of its 24 troops, including two officers on November 26 last year at Salala adjoining the borders with Afghanistan in Pakistan tribal areas. The fixation of compensation and additional taxes on the supplies are reportedly additional conditions. The official added that Washington had shown its willingness to accept Islamabad’s demand of additional fees on goods passing through Pakistan.

The Coalition Support Fund (CSF) is also expected to be discussed during the talks. The CSF has been one of the contentious issues between the two countries. The fund was established by the United States in 2001 to support 27 nations, including Pakistan, to partially cover costs they incur during the war against terrorism. Pakistan is among the countries that have not been given their share judiciously.

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