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* Analysts say Kayani’s presence reflects how much importance US attaches to relations with Pak army despite mutual distrust

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Army is likely to dominate key security issues for the country as senior government and military officials meet their American counterparts for important talks in Washington this week.

In the first ministerial-level strategic talks scheduled on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will focus on security cooperation between the two uneasy allies to fight militants.

The talks will also tackle US help to bolster Pakistan’s weak economy and help it overcome growing water and energy crises.

However, analysts say it is Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani, also attending the talks, who has set the agenda for Pakistan on security-related matters.

“In strategic dialogue, security-related issues have always been handled by the military,” said security and political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi.

In the run-up to the strategic talks on Wednesday, Kayani has met US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General David Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, and other senior US military officials.

The army has ruled Pakistan for more than half its 61 years of independence and has traditionally dominated the country’s key foreign policy matters such as relations with rival India, military ties with the US and Afghan policy.

“This is not a new thing in Pakistan,” Rizvi said. “The military has always set the agenda for security matters... civilians cannot make unilateral decisions on these issues.”

The Pakistani team is expected to present a lengthy “wish list” at the Washington meeting aimed at seeking expanded military and economic cooperation from the United States.

It may include a request for helicopter gunships and drone technology to fight al Qaeda and Taliban militants operating in its border regions, along with increased intelligence sharing.

According to official figures, the United States has given Pakistan $15.4 billion since 2002, about two-thirds security-related.

While Qureshi is officially leading the Pakistani side in the talks, analysts say Kayani’s presence reflects how much importance the US attaches to strong relations with the Pakistan Army despite the mutual distrust.

US officials have complained that some elements in Pakistani intelligence agencies are covertly supporting the Taliban to use them as a proxy to secure influence in Afghanistan and keep old enemy India out after any US pullout.

“Security is the most important priority for both Pakistan and the United States,” said Talat Masood, a retired general turned analyst.

“Americans also want to have a strong relationship with the army because security policy and its implementation largely falls in the domain of the army,” he said. “Therefore Kayani has an important role to play in these talks.” reuters
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