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Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Pakistani army chief to discuss Taliban

- The Washington Times - Monday, March 25, 2013

Secretary of State John F. Kerry met with Pakistan's army chief in the Jordanian capital of Amman on Sunday night to discuss the floundering peace process with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Mr. Kerry and Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani held discussions on a "range of bilateral security issues, including on counterterrorism, on combating safe havens, and on issues that are important to the future of Afghanistan, to Pakistan and to us," a senior U.S. official who spoke on background told reporters traveling with the secretary.

Pakistan's military said the discussions focused on the "reconciliation process in Afghanistan and security issues concerning the South Asian region."

The Taliban ditched the process last March, citing U.S. inaction on its demand to release five high-value detainees at the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Mr. Kerry, who was in Afghanistan on Monday, had wanted to visit Pakistan but decided not to make the trip since the government is preparing for elections, the U.S. official said.

Mr. Kerry and Gen. Kayani happened to be in Amman at the same time, and their meeting was a "judgment call," the U.S. official said.

"Given the kind of historic nature of where Pakistan is right now, we wanted to be holier than the pope on this one on staying away until — while the electoral process unfolded," the U.S. official said. "Given the state of conspiracy theorists, given the state of anything else, we did not want to lead anyone to conclude anything about where our interests may lie."

"Originally, Secretary Kerry was hopeful that he would be able to go to Pakistan on this trip as well, but as the government there really enters a very historic period in this electoral process, we wanted to fully respect those institutions and the ongoing process, and so not travel there this time but go there at an appropriate time in the future," the official added.

Pakistan is scheduled to hold elections in May. This will be the South Asian nation's first peaceful transition of power between civilian administrations.

Pervez Musharraf, a former army chief who seized power in a coup in 1999 and ruled Pakistan until 2008, returned from exile over the weekend to participate in the elections.

The senior U.S. official said Mr. Kerry met with Gen. Kayani in order to continue a dialogue on combating terrorism and ensuring a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan.

The U.S. and its allies intend to withdraw all combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

U.S. and Afghan officials say Pakistan provides sanctuaries as well as material support to militant groups that operate in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's civilian government has said that it favors an Afghan-led peace process and that its strategy toward its western neighbor has changed.

Some analysts are skeptical about the new line coming out of Islamabad.

Pakistan will continue to provide safe havens for militants operating in Afghanistan, said Anthony Cordesman, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"The reality is with the Pakistani sanctuaries, given the terrain, given the tribal and other alignments, in the east and in the south there will be areas outside the population centers which will certainly remain under insurgent control through the end of 2014 and mainly under insurgent control or influence for years to come," Mr. Cordesman said at a meeting last week.

Meanwhile, David Pearce, the acting U.S. special representative on Pakistan and Afghanistan, will travel to Pakistan soon for discussions with the government in Islamabad.

Mr. Kerry, who as a senator wrote legislation that provides billions of dollars of aid to Pakistan, will visit Pakistan after a new government is in place.

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