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Ejaz Haider

Express Tribune

Published Date: Jul 22, 2012

Allen talks cooperation after ?Salala tragedy?

General John Allen, commander Isaf (International Security
Assistance Force) in Afghanistan, has said that if the Pakistan Army launched
an operation in North Waziristan Agency, “we are prepared to pay extra
attention” to any spill over that may occur because of the operation.

He
was talking to The Express
Tribune
on July 19 at a banquet in the presidential palace in Kabul
hosted by Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai in honour of visiting Pakistan
Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf.

This
is the first time a US official, military or civilian, has talked about the
possibility of operational coordination in the event of an operation conducted
by the Pakistan Army on its side.

General
Allen was responding to The
Express Tribune’s
observation that, while the United States keeps
pushing Pakistan to do more, and has made an operation against the so-called
Haqqani Network as one of the benchmarks of US-Pakistan relations, both at the
strategic and operational levels, when the Pakistan Army launched an operation
in South Waziristan in October 2009, the Isaf vacated its posts on the other
side, making it easy for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan fighters to slip into
Afghanistan to avoid getting captured and killed.

When
asked about whether there are enough forces across from North Waziristan
Agency, Gen Allen said that they had “enough deployments on our side in the
territory abutting [the] North Waziristan [Agency]”. However, he would not talk
about the exact strength and also refused to say if an operation in NWA or its
timing was part of the operational meetings between Pakistan Army chief,
General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and himself. “You will have to put this question
to General Kayani,” he said. General Allen would also not comment on the exact
nature of coordination with the Pakistan Army if and when the latter launches
an operation in NWA, saying “It will not be right for me to talk about
operational details”.

In
more general terms, however, he said that his meetings with General Kayani,
both bilateral and the recent ones along with the Afghanistan army chief,
Lt-Gen Sher Mohammad Karimi, had focused on “cross-border movement” from both
sides. “We had very good discussions and we looked into areas of cooperation
which need to be improved.” But when pressed to give a sense of any specific
measures that would be taken he said that The
Express Tribune
should speak with the Pakistani military command.

He
was vociferous in denying that the Salala incident was a deliberate attempt by
the US military to get even with the Pakistani military. He said that this
impression in Pakistan was totally off the mark and Salala was a tragedy where
mistakes were made by both sides. “The central issue in current talks is how to
ensure that such an incident does not happen again. We enjoy an excellent
relationship,” he said.

General
Allen seemed confident that both sides had been able to identify areas that
caused the incident and have managed to strengthen the procedures along the
border to ensure that such a tragedy is avoided in the future.

When
The Express Tribune
contacted the Inter-Services Public Relations Directorate to get their comments
on how the Pakistan Army understands General Allen’s reference to paying “extra
attention to any spill over” in the event of an operation in NWA, the ISPR
declined to comment, saying these are sensitive issues that cannot be discussed
in the media.