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Petraeus Visits Pakistan To Review Counterinsurgency Cooperation

Pakistani Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar (right) meets with U.S. General David Petraeus in Rawalpindi.
(RFE/RL) -- The new chief of the U.S. military's Central Command, General David Petraeus, is in Islamabad for talks with Pakistani military leaders on their cooperation against terrorism.

Petraeus is a 55-year-old counterinsurgency specialist who is widely credited for improving security as a field commander in Iraq. He arrived in Islamabad overnight with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher.

Reports in the Pakistani press say Petraeus and Boucher were scheduled to meet with Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar and army chief General Ashfaq Kayani. They also were expected to visit with Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, before traveling to Peshawar -- capital of the North West Frontier Province -- to meet with local commanders who have been battling Islamist militants. Later, they are due to travel on to Afghanistan.

Washington has stressed that the visit is not a response to concerns about the security situation in Pakistan, which has been hit by a wave of deadly Taliban and Al-Qaeda suicide attacks, civil unrest, and a crippled economy.

But senior officials in the Pentagon have told RFE/RL the visit shows that relations between Pakistan and the Pentagon are at the top of Petraeus' list of priorities.

'Good Omen'

Retired Pakistani Army General Talat Masood, an Islamabad-based security analyst, told RFE/RL that authorities in Islamabad hope General Petraeus will help improve relations between the United States and Pakistan.

"I think it's a good omen," Masood says. "It's a good sign that General Petraeus is making his first visit to Pakistan. It shows the importance that Pakistan has as far as the United States is concerned. General Petraeus enjoys a very good reputation. We are only hoping that he would be able to influence events and the thinking in the United States about how to deal with Pakistan -- and how to deal with the situation in Afghanistan and in the tribal belts of Pakistan."

Indeed, both the United States and Pakistan have concerns about each other as allies in the war against terrorism. Islamabad has protested a series of suspected U.S. missile strikes against Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgents hiding in Pakistan's tribal regions and other border areas near Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the U.S. officials have expressed concerned that some elements from Pakistan's ISI intelligence service have been helping Islamist militants carry out attacks within Afghanistan, including a deadly suicide bombing outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul earlier this year:

"They would also like to see that there is a greater harmony and coordination between the United States and Pakistan," Masood says. "One of the major impediments in this is the American incursions [into Pakistani territory], which really have strained the relationship and have created problems for the political government, as well as for [Pakistan's] army.

"General Petraeus may be able to grasp this point better than his predecessors and would like to find a solution to this. Pakistan would also probably see to it that it also addresses the concerns of the United States about certain elements in Pakistan which are creating problems in Afghanistan."

Hopes Raised

Masood says Pakistani military officials have been encouraged by the public comments Petraeus has made in recent weeks about the need for a regional stabilization strategy on Afghanistan.

Masood says hopes also have been raised by Petraeus' view that local and tribal leaders should be embraced and brought into counterinsurgency efforts.

"I am quite hopeful and quite optimistic about his command because he has shown certain qualities which have been somewhat rare in the American leadership," says Masood. "I think a regional solution is truly the answer because there is a need for a common vision between Pakistan and Afghanistan and other regional countries. [They must] share a common vision of stabilizing the region instead of trying to influence through proxies in each other's countries. It would be a win-win situation if there really was a common vision for the prosperity, well-being, and stability of the region."

Some analysts see Petraeus' appointment to chief of U.S. Central Command as a sign that the Pentagon now recognizes that it is not winning in Afghanistan.

They say Petraeus has an understanding of the dynamics of counterinsurgency operations and that he may convince the current and the next U.S. administrations to review counterinsurgency policies.