Kayani focus of first US-Pak strategic dialogue

Pakistan and the US are set to hold their first strategic dialogue on Wednesday.

Updated: Mar 23, 2010, 19:13 PM IST

Islamabad: Pakistan and the US are set to
hold their first strategic dialogue on Wednesday but the focus
will squarely be on powerful army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani,
who has played a key role in shaping the government`s approach
to the parleys which are expected to cover Indo-Pak ties and

Gen Kayani, currently visiting the US at the invitation
of Central Command chief Gen David Petraeus, will participate
in the ministerial-level strategic dialogue to be chaired by
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton in Washington.

Over the past few weeks, Kayani has taken on a key role
in preparing the grounds for the talks.

On March 16, he chaired a meeting of federal secretaries
at the army`s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi to finalise
the agenda for the strategic dialogue. He followed this up
with a visit to the Foreign Office for further consultations.

Kayani was the guiding force in drawing up a "wish list"
for the dialogue, including assurances from the US about
protecting Islamabad`s interests in Afghanistan, normalising
Indo-Pak relations and Pakistan`s acceptance as a nuclear
weapon state, sources told PTI.

Leading defence analyst Lt Gen (Retd) Talat Masood said
Kayani had merely stepped in to "fill a vacuum" in the
democratically elected civilian government, whose legitimacy
in terms of performance was "very poor."

"Gen Kayani has contributed to presenting Pakistan`s
viewpoint in a way that has found resonance which was lacking
in the past. This has contributed to a shift in the US
position, especially in terms of Pakistan`s interests
vis-a-vis Afghanistan and India," Masood told PTI.

India`s presence in Afghanistan had given rise to
suspicions in Pakistan and Kayani was working to ensure that
New Delhi did not "alter" Pakistan`s desire for a friendly
regime in Kabul, Masood said.

Masood said he was among those who believed the army
should remain in the background in the political arena but
noted that there was no option but for Kayani to step in
because of the challenges confronting Pakistan.

Some, like columnist Mosharraf Zaidi, are sceptical of
the army`s role in the strategic dialogue.

Despite the US public commitment to democracy in
Pakistan, it knows that its interests can be pursued only by
the Pakistani military.

"The US trusts the Pakistani military even though that
trust has been corroded over the years," Zaidi said.

The US was looking to Pakistan to help fashion an
"honourable exit from Afghanistan without making (President
Barack) Obama look weak" while Islamabad is looking for
material benefits, including its positioning in relation to
India, Afghanistan and Iran, he added.

More significantly, Zaidi noted, Pakistan`s Parliament
had not been involved in preparations for the strategic
dialogue, an issue that was settled between the army`s General
Headquarters and the federal secretaries.

Ahead of tomorrow`s dialogue, Kayani has held extensive
discussions on defence cooperation with top leaders in the

Kayani yesterday held a meeting with US Defence Secretary
Robert Gates, which was also attended by Admiral Mike Mullen,
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Under Secretary of
Defence for Policy Michele Flournoy.

Over the weekend, Kayani met US Central Command chief Gen
Petraeus to "reaffirm the strategic partnership" between the
two sides.

Petraeus and Kayani discussed ways to advance cooperation
and collaboration in countering extremist violence in
Afghanistan and US support for Pakistan`s struggle against

Besides asking the US to speed up the reimbursement of
expenses on the war on terror and the supply of military gear,
Kayani is expected to press the American civil and military
leadership to address Pakistan`s concerns about India,
diplomatic sources said.