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Pakistan’s quiet coup

world Updated: Mar 23, 2010 01:18 IST

In a sign of the mounting power of the army over the civilian government in Pakistan, the head of the military, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, will be the dominant Pakistani participant in meetings in Washington this week.

At home, much has been made of how Kayani has driven the agenda for the talks. They have been billed as Cabinet-level meetings, with the foreign minister as the nominal head of the Pakistani delegation.

But it has been the general who has been calling the civilian heads of major government departments, including finance and foreign affairs, to his army headquarters to discuss final details, an unusual move in a democratic system.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has been taking a public role in trying to set the tone, insisting that the United States needs to do more for Pakistan, as “We have already done too much.”

The talks are expected to help define the relationship between the US and Pakistan as the war against the Taliban reaches its endgame in Afghanistan. It is in that context that Kayani’s role in organising the agenda has raised alarm here in Pakistan.

He is to attend the opening ceremony of the talks between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Qureshi at the State Department on Wednesday.

The most pressing concerns in the talks, according to officials on both sides, will be trying to establish confidence after several years of a corrosive relationship between allies, which only in the past few months has started to gain some positive momentum. But the complexity of the main topics at hand — the eventual US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan’s concerns about India — is expected to make for a tough round of talks.