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Top US Envoy in Talks with Pakistani, Afghan Officials

U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman (C), U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter (L), and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker attend a tripartite meeting of Pakistani, U.S. and Afghan officials at the foreign ministry
U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman (C), U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter (L), and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker attend a tripartite meeting of Pakistani, U.S. and Afghan officials at the foreign ministry

U.S. special envoy Marc Grossman has held further talks with Pakistani leaders to discuss reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan.

The talks come as the two allies in the war against terrorism are trying to ease diplomatic tensions that have worsened since al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. commando raid into Pakistan on May 2.

U.S. special envoy Marc Grossman, who has been in Pakistan since Monday, attended the latest round of talks between senior Afghan, U.S. and Pakistani officials in Islamabad on coordinating efforts aimed at ending the violence in Afghanistan.

US, Pakistan tensions

The American envoy, who met with Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani on Wednesday, has also held extensive detailed discussions on bilateral ties between Islamabad and Washington. An official statement suggests that the primary focus of the talks was establishing peace in Afghanistan, but it is not clear whether the issue of travel curbs on U.S diplomats in Pakistan was discussed.

Pakistani officials, however, say there has been an extensive exchange of views in the formal talks, and that the two sides have agreed to resolve the issue of travel curbs on U.S. diplomats in a "friendly manner" to ensure it does not undermine their joint counter-terror campaign.

Speaking in Islamabad Tuesday night, Grossman acknowledged that bilateral ties have encountered difficulties in recent months. He said that Pakistan and the United States are working closely to resolve the issue of travel restrictions on American diplomats in Pakistan.

“American diplomats in Pakistan are free to travel," said Grossman. "The government of Pakistan has some regulations and it has got some requirements and we are trying together to figure out how to meet those requirements. I am absolutely certain we will be able to do so in a way that will allow the government of Pakistan to meet its requirements and allow American diplomats to travel freely in Pakistan," he said.

U.S. officials argue that the Vienna Convention allows U.S. diplomats freedom of movement  in Pakistan, particularly when they travel to cities where U.S. consulates are located.

Earlier this week, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar denied reports her country has placed travel curbs on U.S. diplomats.

“There are no specific-to-a-certain-nationality restrictions anywhere in Pakistan on diplomatic movement, not specific to any nationality," said Khar. "There are general rules and codes of conduct, which are applicable to every diplomat functioning in Pakistan. So let me just clarify that there are no specific to any specific nationality action(s) anywhere in Pakistan,” she said.

Pakistani officials maintain that the restrictions on foreign diplomats are not new and are meant to ensure the personal security of diplomats while they travel around the country, where Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants have carried out frequent suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks.

Rebuilding trust

In his meeting with Grossman on Monday, President Asif Ali Zardari called on the United States to agree to what he called “clear terms of engagement” to avoid future problems in bilateral ties. Maleeha Lodhi once served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington.

“I think both countries also realize that they don’t want to see a complete breakdown and that a complete breakdown must be averted," says Lodhi. "There are, after all, common interests that bind the two countries. There may be tactical differences in how to achieve those goals, but the two key goals are the defeat of al-Qaida as well as the effort to end the war in Afghanistan through a political settlement in which Pakistan has a key role to play.”

Pakistani civilian and military officials have repeatedly said in recent weeks that they want to redefine and restructure the country’s relationship with the United States to make sure Pakistan’s “national interests” are safeguarded.

They insist that an agreement between Washington and Islamabad is needed on the a number of issues causing bilateral frictions, including the number of CIA personnel deployed in Pakistan and the use of missile strikes by U.S. drones against militant hideouts on Pakistani territory, which Pakistani authorities say fuel anti-American sentiment in the country.

Former ambassador Lodhi says that under the current circumstances, Islamabad and Washington have no option other than to work closely if they want to promote their shared goal of strengthening peace and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan.

“I think the two countries will also have to see where they can find the common ground so that they can begin to rebuild the relationship, because I think what is being lost is a great deal, if not all, of the trust between the two capitals.”

Abbottabad raid

Angered by the U.S. covert raid that killed bin Laden, Islamabad cut back on U.S. military trainers and tightened restrictions on CIA officials in the country. The curbs on the movement of American diplomats are seen as part of the same punitive policy.

But the presence of the fugitive chief of al-Qaida in a Pakistani garrison town, undetected for several years, annoyed Washington.

The tensions stemming from the Abbottabad raid have also led to the suspension of about a third of the $2.7 billion in annual U.S. military aid to Pakistan.

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