Pakistan intel chief to discuss drones in US

Pakistan's spymaster will next week visit the United States to resume talks on intelligence cooperation and drone strikes, the thorniest aspect of Pakistani-US relations, an official said Wednesday.

It is the first time in a year the head of the military's ISI intelligence agency flies to Washington, signalling a thaw in relations beset by crisis since US troops found and killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011.

Lieutenant General Zaheer ul-Islam, who was appointed in March, will hold talks with CIA director David Petraeus on counter-terror cooperation and intelligence sharing, a senior Pakistani security official told AFP.

But the differences and intractability on both sides highlight the tensions of the fractured anti-terror alliance, despite Islamabad's decision to end a seven-month blockade on NATO supplies for Afghanistan.

The United States is understood to be keen for a return of US military personnel to assist Pakistani officers in the northwest, where Washington says Taliban havens are exacerbating the war in neighbouring Afghanistan.

"It is not true," said the official, when asked if Pakistan may allow such a return.

Islamabad's desire is an end to US attacks against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and the means for Islamabad to carry out the attacks instead.

But on that, the battle lines have been drawn and there is little indication of concessions, given the level of distrust between Islamabad and Washington.

"The general has been authorised to take a firm stand on the drones' issue during his talks," the official told AFP.

"The visit has the full backing of the political and military leadership," he said.

"We need this precision strike capability to avoid collateral damage and its political fall out. The idea is that the US develops the target and tells us, and we destroy it ourselves," the official added.

Islamabad has been increasingly vocal in its opposition to the drones, which leaders quietly approved initially, as its alliance with Washington crashed to its lowest ebb in a decade.

Pakistan says American raids are a violation of sovereignty and fan anti-US sentiment.

But US officials are understood to believe the attacks too important to give up, although the number has declined as relations have nosedived.

Many also distrust Pakistan's willingness and ability to go after militants deemed a threat to the United States.

For example, Pakistan has resisted pressure to move against the Al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, an Afghan Taliban faction whose leaders are based in Pakistan and blamed for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan.

Pakistan denies any support for militants and points out that thousands of its soldiers have died fighting homegrown Taliban since 2002.

On July 3, Islamabad agreed to again allow NATO supplies to travel overland to Afghanistan after the United States said sorry for the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers in botched air strikes last November.

The crisis was the worst episode in Pakistan's partnership with the US in the war in Afghanistan, but the resumption of NATO traffic has been thin.

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