`ISI chief met US officials during Qatar visit`

Pasha returned from a trip to Qatar that was "authorised" by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Last Updated: Dec 30, 2011, 11:44 AM IST

Islamabad: Inter-Services Intelligence chief
Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha`s recent visit to Qatar, home to the
US Central Command`s regional headquarters, has sparked
speculation about an `intelligence back channel` between
Pakistan and the US to reset troubled security cooperation.

Pasha, whose overseas trips are not officially announced,
returned on Wednesday from a trip to Qatar that was
"authorised" by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Dawn
newspaper reported on Friday.

A western diplomatic source told the daily that Pasha met
US officials during his stay in Qatar.

Pasha`s visit followed the release of the US Central
Command`s preliminary report on the cross-border NATO air
strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on November 26.

The attack took Pakistan-US ties to a new low.
Central Command chief Gen James Mattis initially planned
to visit Islamabad this week to share with the Pakistani
military authorities findings of the probe.

Mattis had to cancel the visit after his hosts expressed
their inability to receive him because of the situation in
Pakistan, where anti-America sentiments are running high and a
parliamentary body is working to review the terms of
engagement with the US, the report said.

Gilani had himself disclosed that Pasha was visiting
Qatar during a media interaction earlier this week. The
premier said he had approved the trip.

Gilani is set to travel to Doha next month.
The Dawn quoted diplomatic observers as saying that
indications from Islamabad and Washington pointed towards an
impending thaw in relations that went into a free fall after
the NATO attack.

Pakistan closed all NATO supply routes and forced the US
to vacate Shamsi airbase that was reportedly being used by
CIA-operated drones.

Gen Mattis has directed the International Security
Assistance Force in Afghanistan to improve ties with Pakistan
and the Pentagon has hinted at possible punitive action
against those responsible for the border incident ? something
desired by the Pakistan Army.

However, the Pakistan Army has rejected the findings of
the US probe.

The Foreign Office yesterday said efforts were being made
to mend ties with the US, which had seen "many ups and downs"
this year.

"We are on speaking terms with the US. Doubtless there
are problems but we are trying to put our relations on a track
that is transparent and in sync with our aspirations," Foreign
Office spokesman Abdul Basit told a news briefing.

Diplomatic observers are also attaching importance to the
timing of Afghanistan`s withdrawal of an objection to Qatar
hosting a Taliban office because the announcement came while
the ISI chief was in Qatar, supposedly talking to US
officials.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday agreed to the
setting up of the Taliban office in Qatar, a move that he had
opposed all along.

Cooperation between the US and Pakistan for Afghan
reconciliation had come to a halt after the NATO air strike.

Pakistan boycotted the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan
earlier this month and a trilateral Pakistan-US-Afghanistan
meeting was cancelled because of the strained ties.

PTI