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Pak to US: Terror bill worth $35 billion, nuke deal

WASHINGTON: Pakistan is coming up with a bill of $ 35 billion for its efforts in the war on terror and a wish-list that includes a nuclear deal similar to the US-India agreement as it prepares to engage Washington this coming week in what officials from both sides say is the most comprehensive dialogue in their bilateral history.

Turning the US mantra that Pakistan should “do more” in the war on terror, Pakistani officials, in an aggressive turnaround, have said Pakistan has done enough and it is now the United States turn to do more, as they set off to Washington for talks on the heels of what they claim is unprecedented success against the Taliban.

Pakistan has “captured” nearly half the top Taliban leadership, including the organisation’s No.2 Mullah Baradar, in recent weeks in the run-up to the talks. Although U.N and Afghan officials accuse the Pakistanis, who were hosting the Taliban leadership, took them in to sabotage peace talks being held outside Islamabad’s patronage, U.S officials said on Friday that they were “gratified” by the arrests.

“We are extremely gratified… he is where he belongs,” the Obama administration’s Af-Pak envoy Richard Holbrooke said about Baradar’s arrest by Pakistan as he previewed the upcoming talks with reporters at the State Department on Friday, adding, “And many other people have been picked up or eliminated, and this is putting much more pressure on the Taliban. And this is a good thing for the simplest of reasons: It is good for the military efforts that are underway in Afghanistan.”

Holbrooke also endorsed a central role for the Pakistani military at the talks, asking “how can you have a strategic dialogue without including the military?” In a move that has caused some disquiet in Pakistan itself, the country’s army chief Pervez Ashfaq Kiyani and spy chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha are members of the delegation, ostensibly led by Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Kiyani is said to have set the agenda for the talks in preparatory meetings in Pakistan.

“If we have a strategic dialogue in our country, we’re going to include the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or some other representative. So we are very pleased that General Kayani is part of this delegation. We think that it’s one country, one government, one team. It was their decision and we welcomed it,” Holbrooke said. Washington in recent weeks has noticeably cooled down its criticism of the over-arching role played by the Pakistan military in the country’s affairs.

Pakistan’s wish-list for the Obama administration includes not only speeding up disbursements in bilateral aid under the Kerry-Lugar package and Coalition Support Funds, both of which are audited for more precise use and claim, but enhanced support for its economy, particularly in the energy sector. Vast swathes of the country are now under 8 to 12 hour power cuts and Islamabad is presenting this as one reason why Washington should offer a civilian nuclear deal to Pakistan similar to the US-India deal, although experts say Pakistan has no capacity to absorb or implement such an agreement even if it were to pass international scrutiny.

US officials remain non-committal about the deal. “We have a very broad and complex agenda in these talks… and we’re going to listen carefully to whatever the Pakistanis say,” Holbrooke said cautiously when asked about a possible nuclear deal. In fact, no one in Washington takes Pakistan $ 35 billion claim as its total cost in the war on terror arrived at during internal deliberations in Islamabad last week, seriously.

But Holbrooke held out the prospect of enhanced aid in other areas and sectors, promising a few surprise announcements. “This is not a photo op, although you will have an opportunity to take a photo. This is an intense, serious dialogue bilaterally between the US. and Pakistan,” he said in a hurried briefing at the state department that followed a White House meeting of principals where, Holbrooke said, — “almost every senior person in the United States foreign policy community was in the room” to discuss US policy for the region.

Pakistan too is striving to broad-base its ties with the US on the same lines as India’s expansive engagement, covering sector beyond security. Indicative of the broad agenda for the March 24 talks, the Pakistani delegation led by Foreign Miniser Qureshi includes Minister of Defense Mukhtar Ahmad, Finance Minister nominee Abdul Shaikh, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Social Issues Wazir Ali; Advisor to the Prime Minister on Agriculture and Water Majidullah; the Chief of Staff of the Army General Kayani and his delegation of military advisors; Ambassador Hussain Haqqani; Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir; and Secretaries of Information Technology, Water and Power, Finance, Agriculture, Defense, among others.

The US delegation, led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton includes Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Neal Wolin, National Security Council Senior Director David Lipton, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Marantis, the Administrator of USAID Raj Shah, myself, Ambassador Anne Patterson and Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Judith McHale, Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense David Sydney, among others.

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