Saturday, June 11, 2011

Hopes are low as Afghanistan's Karzai visits Pakistan

Analysts say they see little hope of progress on forging a truce with militants. Separately, CIA chief Leon Panetta, picked to be the next U.S. Defense secretary, meets with Pakistan's army and intelligence heads.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrived in Islamabad on Friday for a two-day summit with his Pakistani counterparts that is expected to focus on efforts to forge a truce with the Taliban after years of militant violence in both countries.

But analysts said they saw little hope of concrete progress from his meetings with President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, given lingering distrust and security problems on their shared lawless border."I don't expect anything substantive to come out of this," said Mahmood Shah, a Pakistani analyst and retired brigadier. "Both sides have an interest in reintegrating the Taliban, but I don't see anything much."

Separately, CIA Director Leon E. Panetta met Friday with the two officials who some here say really run Pakistan — spy chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha and army head Gen. Ashfaq Kayani — on how to improve relations between Washington and Islamabad. Ties have been strained since the U.S. raid last month in which Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed.

Panetta's relationship with Pasha and Kayani will be important in his new role, assuming Senate confirmation, as Defense secretary.

Pakistan was shaken by the raid on Bin Laden's compound in an army town two hours' drive from Islamabad, the capital. Pakistan was not informed in advance, sparking sovereignty concerns as well as embarrassment over suspicions that the military either didn't know of Bin Laden's whereabouts or harbored him.

Islamabad has shown its displeasure with the U.S. by forcing out most U.S. Army trainers based in the country. This week it also said it no longer wanted Washington's massive financial assistance, although most analysts believe this was a bluff.

Mistrust has also been a significant feature in Pakistani-Afghan relations in recent years. Afghanistan has accused Pakistan of harboring militants who use its territory to launch attacks, citing as an example the discovery that Bin Laden was living there.

Pakistan counters that it has no interest in protecting militants, pointing out that many of its own people have suffered from terrorism, including in a recent attack on its security forces apparently launched from the Afghan side of the border. Some Pakistanis also say they suspect the Afghan government of meddling in Pakistan's restive Baluchistan province.

Yet relations have improved in recent months as Pakistani leaders have tried to strengthen ties by playing on Afghan discontent with the U.S. and arguing that China is the resident superpower, not America, analysts said.

"Close engagement between our political, military and intelligence institutions is vital for durable peace and stability in our two countries," Zardari said at a dinner Friday.

Karzai's visit comes within weeks of an expected U.S. troop reduction in Afghanistan that could ultimately leave a power vacuum and force regional players to jockey for position. The U.S. has been urging Afghan forces to take greater responsibility for their nation's security, although progress has been slow.

Pakistani leaders will also want to hear whether Karzai would allow the U.S. to keep bases in Afghanistan after the bulk of its troops withdraws, something Pakistan opposes.

Karzai is accompanied by several senior officials, including Afghanistan's defense, interior and commerce ministers. The two sides are expected to sign the Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement.

Shah, the retired brigadier, said Pakistan may find itself under U.S. pressure to allow road traffic between Afghanistan and India, Pakistan's main rival. "Although the Pakistan government may agree, its people won't accept this," he said.

Terrorism must be defeated for regional peace: Karzai, Zardari

Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed to evolve a mechanism for furthering bilateral ties, allaying misperceptions, curbing illegal movement in the border areas, extending the scope of transit trade to the Central Asian states and implementation of all the major projects.

This was resolved by President Asif Ali Zardari and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai at a joint press conference at the Aiwan-e- Sadr Friday after one-on-one and delegation level meetings.

A wide spectrum of issues including Pak-Afghan ties, war against terrorism, security situation in the region, dialogue with Taliban for the sake of peace in Afghanistan, Pak-Afghan transit trade and prevention of illegal movement in border areas figured in the talks.

Briefing the media about the talks with President Karzai, President Asif Ali Zardari said Pakistan would further improve its ties with Afghanistan. Both the countries have been enjoying good relations since long, he added.

According to President Zardari, misperceptions are everywhere but Pak-Afghan relations have gained more strength during the incumbent government. We will have to bring more improvement in our trust, he stressed.

He went on to say that Central Asian States would be made part of Pak-Afghan transit trade and every possible cooperation would be extended to Afghan government in this respect.

He held Pakistan was fighting war against terrorism for its own sake as the terrorists had targeted children, youths, elder persons and security forces personnel. Government would continue with its efforts till the elimination of terrorism.

Peace in Afghanistan was very critical for peace in the region, he underlined. Peace would remain elusive in the region without peace in Afghanistan, he underscored. Pakistan would continue its support for stable Afghanistan, he held.

He said that Afghanistan was not a poor country, only it needs a chance. We are convinced that after restoration of peace, Afghanistan would make progress and both the countries would cooperate in the areas of infrastructure development, energy and trade.

To a question, President Zardari said that Pakistan would not accept pressure from any side, adding “We know how to defend our borders. The world needs to know that both Afghanistan and Pakistan are working for peace and prosperity.”

Addressing the media, Hamid Karzai said that a large number of Afghan students were studying in Pakistani educational institutions that showed how close the two countries are. He thanked the Government of Pakistan for constructing the “best road” from Torkham to Jalalabad. “Afghanistan, like Pakistan, is taking part in the efforts to eradicate terrorism. We need to make joint efforts on this front which is in the benefit of the peoples of the two coutnries.

To a query he said defending Afghan people and the borders was the sole responsibility of the government of Afghanistan and his government would improve its capacity to do that.

Earlier in the delegation level talks the Afghan side comprised Chairman High Peace Council Bahran ud Din Rabbani, Afghan foreign minister Dr Zalme Rasool, minister for national defence Abdul Rahim Wardik, interior minister Bismillah Muhammadi, Energy Minister Muhammad Ismail Khan, commerce minister Anwar ul Haq Ahdi.

Pakistan side was represented by Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar, interior minister Rehman Malik, commerce minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim, finance minister Hafiz Sheikh, minister for water and power Navid Qamar, state minister for foreign affairs, Hina Rabbani Kha and other officials.

Karzai,Gilani hold one-on-one meeting

Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani and Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday in their one-on-one meeting focused on issues relating to the reconciiation process and peace and security in the region.

The two sides also discussed bilateral ties with special focus on enhancing joint efforts for peace as a requisite for prosperity and development in both countries.Both the leaders discussed the scenario after the withdrawal of U.S forces from Afghanistan this summer.

Prime Minister Gilani and President Karzai will also address a joint press conference at the end of their meeting. Earlier, Afghan President Karzai was accorded warm welcome as he arrived at the Prime Minister House on Saturday. He was received by Prime Minister Gilani.