Pakistani army commander in talks with NATO
Associated Press, 05.19.09
Pakistan's military chief, Gen. Ashfaz Parvez Kayani, held talks with NATO officials in Brussels on Tuesday as the Pakistani army pushed on with its offensive against militants in the Swat valley and surrounding districts.
NATO and Pakistani officials in Brussels gave no details of the agenda. However, the meeting comes as the U.S. presses for closer coordination of military and civilian efforts on both sides of the Pakistani-Afghan border.
Kayani last visited NATO in November, when he urged the alliance's military commanders to focus on winning the population's backing in those areas to prevent Taliban and al-Qaida militants from using them as safe havens.
Kayani arrived in Brussels from a one-day visit on Monday to Paris, where he met President Nicolas Sarkozy and top French government and military officials.
Pakistan's army is engaged in major combat in Swat, in response to attempts by armed Islamic militants to solidify their hold on the region. The military says more than 1,000 insurgents have so far been killed in the fighting, which has forced nearly 1.5 million people to flee from the area.
Analysts said Kayani's visit highlighted increasing cooperation in the fight against Taliban militants on both sides of the border.
"Alliance commanders will obviously be very keen to get a sense of how sustained the Pakistani operation will be and what its ultimate goals are," said Shada Islam, head of the Asia program at the European Policy Center, a Brussels-based think tank.
In Islamabad, Pakistan's army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said on Monday that infantry troops were moving into the main towns of the region after three weeks of mostly aerial bombardment of insurgent positions, camps and training grounds in the hills.
He said the army wanted a "quick and speedy operation so we can clear the area and allow the internally displaced people to return."
NATO has nearly 60,000 troops in neighboring Afghanistan, and alliance commanders have frequently called on Pakistan to stamp out cross-border infiltration by armed militants.
2009 Associated Press.