Pakistan’s influential military chief will visit the US from Sunday, a trip analysts say will underscore security issues facing Islamabad and Washington in the region as well as the imbalance in civilian-military power in Pakistan.
The November 15-20 visit comes weeks after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met with US President Barack Obama at the Oval Office to discuss many of the same issues said to be on his army chief’s agenda, including Afghan peace talks and Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions.
Analysts said Raheel Sharif’s influence over both issues makes him, rather than the civilian leadership, the dominant broker for Washington’s regional agenda.
The Americans “know where the power is”, Pakistani defence and security analyst Talat Masood said. However that is likely to make the visit “a bit trickier” for Sharif as he tries to balance Washington’s demands, particularly in Afghanistan, said analyst Zahid Hussain, a columnist for Pakistan’s top English newspaper Dawn.
Stability in Pakistan’s neighbour Afghanistan has spiralled after a Taliban surge in recent months, and Obama announced in October that Washington will keep thousands of soldiers in the country past 2016.
Sharif will also hold detailed discussions with US defence officials about the militant Haqqani network, which comes under the umbrella of the Taliban and has been described by US officials in the past as a “veritable arm” of Pakistani intelligence.
Some in Washington believe Pakistan has not done enough to bring its influence to bear and to persuade the group to renounce violence, and during Nawaz Sharif’s trip in October Obama stressed that Pakistan needed to take action against groups that undermine peaceful dialogue.
The pressure has increased since a round of peace talks was broken off this summer when the death of long-time Taliban leader Mullah Omar was announced.
Nawaz Sharif agreed last month to help Afghanistan re-start the talks, but Washington’s concerns over the collapse of negotiations are “casting a shadow over the general’s coming visit”, Hussain wrote.