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US Seeks to Renew Military Cooperation with Pakistan - 2002-09-25

A high-level American delegation is in Pakistan to renew defense cooperation for the first time in five years. The United States broke off such ties after Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in 1998.

The Pakistan-U.S. Defense Consultative Group is meeting in Islamabad for the first time since 1997. Meetings were suspended in 1998 after Pakistan carried out its first nuclear tests in response to those in rival, India.

The American decision to restore defense cooperation is being seen as a reward for Pakistan's close cooperation in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Pakistan has rounded up a large number of al-Qaida suspects who fled the coalition forces in neighboring Afghanistan. It has also allowed the use of its military bases for the anti-terrorism war.

Officials in Islamabad say Pakistan is likely to ask for new weapons to strengthen its military forces. The two sides are also expected to discuss cooperation in patrolling Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, where the American forces are tracking down fugitive al-Qaida and Taleban militants.

Major General Rashid Qureshi, a military and presidential spokesman, says Pakistan is pleased that defense cooperation is resuming. "It is a welcome sign," he said. "It indicates an improvement of relations between United States and Pakistan to the levels that it should have been all along. The areas that they will be discussing would be defense procurement, [and the] topic of terrorism."

Analysts say the talks will focus on several areas of defense cooperation, including the release of arms and equipment purchased by Pakistan that Washington withheld in 1990 as a punishment for Pakistan's controversial nuclear program.

"I think this meeting is going to do precisely the same thing," said Rasool Bakhsh Rais, director of the Area Study Center at Islamabad's Qauid-e-Azam University. "Pakistan and United States collaborate more closely and exchange visits of military leaders and Pakistan would definitely like to explore possibilities for its personnel getting training in the American military academies."

Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith is to arrive Thursday to co-chair the talks with Pakistan's Defense Secretary Hamid Nawaz. The discussions will conclude on Friday.