Pak's top Army commanders meet ahead of Grossman's visit



Islamabad: The Pakistan Army's top commanders have held a crucial meeting ahead of a visit to Islamabad by US Special Envoy Marc Grossman, who is expected to discuss the revival of the bilateral strategic dialogue and the Afghan reconciliation process.

Grossman, arriving today on a day-long visit, is likely to discuss the issue of giving safe passage to Taliban leaders so that they can participate in the Afghan peace process, media reports said.

However, his visit is likely to be overshadowed by anger in Pakistan over an documentary film deemed offensive to Islam.

Several hardline and extremist groups like the Jamaat-ud-Dawah have called for protests against the film.

Ahead of his visit, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani yesterday chaired a meeting of the Pakistan Army's corps commanders that discussed relations with the US. The issue of safe passage for Taliban leaders for the Afghan peace process figured in the meeting, sources said.

Grossman, the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is the first senior US civilian official to visit Pakistan since Islamabad reopened supply routes for foreign troops in Afghanistan in July after a seven-month blockade.

The routes were closed after a cross-border NATO air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November.

The envoy's visit comes days before a meeting between Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington next week.

Grossman will meet Khar, army chief Kayani and senior civil and military leaders to discuss bilateral cooperation.

Officials told the media that they expected Grossman to focus on reviving the strategic dialogue, which was suspended by Washington last year, and the Afghan reconciliation process.

The envoy has been focusing on efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, an unnamed official was quoted as saying by The Express Tribune.

Grossman is likely to discuss the outcome of a recent meeting of the Pakistan, US and Afghan working group that is discussing modalities to provide safe passage to Afghan Taliban willing to enter the peace process.

The trilateral Safe Passage Working Group's first meeting was held at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad on September 5.

The core group of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US had agreed to establish the Working Group in April.

The US has asked Pakistan to help in bringing Afghan militant groups to the negotiating table to help end the decade-old conflict in Afghanistan.

Several key militant groups, including the Haqqani network and the 'shura' (council) of the Afghan Taliban, are based in Pakistani territory.

Pakistan is believed to have offered to facilitate the safe passage but insisted that an intra-Afghan dialogue is a prerequisite for the success of any initiative, The Express Tribune quoted its sources as saying.

PTI