Top U.S. war commanders meet with Pakistan’s army chief

Khalid Tanveer/AP - Pakistan's army chief Gen. Pervez Kayani, right, and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, left, watch a military exercise. Two top U.S. met with Kayani Wednesday to discuss military cooperation, which suffered after U.S. airstrikes killed 26 Pakistani troops.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Two U.S. generals met with Pakistan’s army chief on Wednesday for high-stakes talks aimed at nudging Islamabad to resume a cooperative relationship with the United States.

It was the first formal discussion among top military commanders from both countries since U.S. airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border in a hotly disputed incident in November.

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The two countries are allies but their relationship has been plagued by mistrust over the last 50 years.
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The two countries are allies but their relationship has been plagued by mistrust over the last 50 years.

Tensions have eased in recent weeks, after outreach by the Obama administration. On Tuesday, President Obama made a personal overture toward normalizing what he called the sometimes strained alliance, meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in Seoul, where both leaders were attending a nuclear security summit.

The Nov. 26 border airstrikes intensified public opposition to any continued Pakistani support for the U.S.-led effort to defeat a Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, Pakistan’s powerful army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, convened talks in the city of Rawalpindi with Gen. James Mattis, who oversees U.S. military operations in the region, and Gen. John Allen, commander of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan.

Although no agenda was released, a chief concern for the U.S. military is whether Pakistan will again allow NATO supply convoys to use a route that crosses its border to bring supplies into Afghanistan.

In retaliation for the airstrikes, which the United States said were accidental but Pakistan called deliberate, Pakistan not only shut down that crucial transit route, but also banished U.S. personnel from an air base used in the CIA’s drone campaign against al-Qaeda and other militants in the country’s northwestern tribal region.

Before the meeting, a military official here who spoke on the condition of anonymity characterized the visit by Mattis and Allen as “very important” and said the discussion would involve “how to get back to complete normal relations.”

Another official with knowledge of the talks said improving cross-border cooperation between the two militaries was among the issues discussed.

The meeting comes in the midst of a Pakistani parliamentary debate meant to reset the terms of Islamabad’s contentious relationship with Washington. The United States has relied to varying degrees on its counterterrorism alliance with Pakistan since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“I welcome the fact that the Parliament in Pakistan is reviewing, after some extensive study, the nature of this relationship,” Obama said at a brief joint news conference with Gilani on Tuesday. “I think that it’s important for us to get it right.”

Pakistan’s Parliament technically has the authority to reopen the supply routes and set other national security policies. But the military, commanded by Kayani, frequently finds ways to subvert civilian decisions. Kayani often is described as the most powerful official in Pakistan.

The Pakistani Taliban has warned that it will target lawmakers who vote for a resumption of the NATO convoys. And opposition parties spent Tuesday denouncing portions of a parliamentary committee report that is the starting point for new bilateral terms of engagement between the estranged allies — opposing, in particular, any support for NATO.

 
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