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COAS to share ideas with US on Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD: Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif is expected to mainly focus on Afghanistan during his coming visit to the United States.During his stay in the US, from Nov 15 to 20, the COAS will meet senior officials at the Pentagon and the State Department, according to officials making preparation for the visit. This will be the army chief’s second visit to Washington in a year. And it comes close on the heels of a visit to Washington by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last month when he discussed almost everything with President Barack Obama.

But given the extent of the military’s influence in the country’s foreign affairs and security matters, people here believe that more substantive discussions would take place during the army chief’s US trip.

One must also not lose sight of the fact that Gen Sharif himself requested for this visit. To put it in the words of a Washington-based source, it is not ‘a counterpart visit’.

The request had been made before the prime minister toured Washington.

But that does not mean that the yearning for a meeting is one-sided. American officials too are keen to meet a general who has successfully fought militancy at home and has looked willing to improve relations with Afghanistan.

They see him as a “very candid, clear and upright interlocutor”.

“Many of the times he says things that would otherwise look quite undiplomatic, but he conveys the reality,” said a source who sat in some of Gen Sharif’s meetings with US officials.

He was last year awarded the US Legion of Merit for his contribution to “peace and security”.

Gen Sharif, according to a well-placed source, would be discussing a wide range of security issues with the US officials, but the focus would be largely on Afghanistan, where the peace process between the Taliban and the Ghani government, which started in July, remains suspended.

Moreover, he would discuss the stalemate in Pak-Afghan bilateral relations, which started after the breakdown of reconciliation talks following the disclosure about Mullah Omar’s death and has been preventing the two countries from working together for a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan.

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