Pakistan and the US to 'deepen cooperation'
After meeting US Central Command chief General David Petraeus (pictured) earlier, Pakistani army chief Ashfaq Kayani is due to pursue talks this week touted by the administration as an effort to build a deeper relationship between Pakistan and the US
AFP - Pakistani army chief Ashfaq Kayani met with US defense chiefs Monday at the start of a week of wide-ranging talks to "deepen the cooperation" between Washington and Islamabad, officials said.
The Obama administration views Kayani as a crucial figure behind Pakistan's stepped-up offensive against Islamist militants along the border with Afghanistan.
Kayani had a near hour-long meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the top US military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, on Monday afternoon after talks on Sunday at US Central Command headquarters outside Tampa, Florida.
"Their discussion focused primarily on bilateral defense issues, but it was part of the larger US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue that is taking place in Washington this week," a Pentagon statement said.
The talks aim "to build upon efforts begun last year to broaden the relationship and deepen the cooperation between our two nations," it added.
Kayani and Central Command chief General David Petraeus earlier "discussed ways to advance cooperation and collaboration in countering extremist violence in Afghanistan, as well as US support for Pakistan's struggle against violent extremists at home," Central Command said in a statement.
Petraeus, who oversees US forces in a region stretching from the Gulf into Afghanistan and Central Asia, "commended Kayani on Pakistan's hard-fought gains" against the Taliban in the Swat valley and the military's "impressive" counter-insurgency campaign, it said.
The Pakistani general was due to hold a dinner meeting Tuesday evening with Mullen, who has made a point of cultivating relations with Kayani.
The Pakistani army chief's visit is part of talks this week touted by the administration as an effort to build a deeper relationship with Pakistan, which has long seen Washington as interested only in securing its military cooperation in the fight against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
The talks chaired by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi will cover not just security but also economic development, water, energy, education, communications, public diplomacy and agriculture, US officials said.
During a January visit to Islamabad, Gates said Washington had let down Pakistan in the past and vowed to restore trust between the two allies.
Kayani's visit comes after US officials praised Pakistan for the arrest of the Afghan Taliban's second-in-command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, and follows reports of other Taliban figures captured in Pakistan.
But the former UN envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, has said the arrests in Pakistan had closed a secret channel of communications with Taliban figures and undermined the Afghan government's attempts to negotiate a settlement with the insurgents.
A spokesman for the Afghan president also said the arrests had a "negative impact" on efforts to broker a peace deal with the Taliban.
Pakistan, one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban's 1996-2001 regime, is keen to shape any reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban and harbors concerns about arch-rival India's influence in Afghanistan.