Top military officials met in Islamabad for the first time since the United States confirmed it would withhold $800 million in aid to Pakistan, one-third of its total $2 billion in annual security assistance to the country.
According to the American embassy there, Chief of U.S. Central Command Marine Gen. James Mattis met with Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and chairman of the joint chiefs, Gen. Khalid Shameem Wynne. The embassy downplayed the talks as part of routine consultations between the two countries, and said they were intended to “share perspectives on the current relationship between the two militaries and to review the way ahead.”
Pakistan's spy chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, is also slated for two days of talks in Washington to “coordinate intelligence matters,” the military said in a one-line statement, according to Reuters.
The talks come after Pakistani Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar said the country may withdraw thousands of troops stationed within its lawless border areas—traditional safe havens to extremists. His comments threaten to further inflame tensions with Washington.
Mukhtar said on a private Pakistani television station on Tuesday that Islamabad “cannot afford to keep our military out in the mountains for such a long period of time,” according to the Washington Post. Mukhtar’s comments appeared to differ from a statement made on Tuesday by top Pakistani military officials pledging for operations to continue even with lessened U.S. funding.
Since the United States killed Osama bin Laden in a garrison town not far from Islamabad in May, many members of Congress from both parties have been calling for the United States to cut back or eliminate its extensive financial aid to Pakistan amid growing questions about Pakistan’s willingness to root out militants. Sunday's announcement that the United States would withhold security aid is the latest sign of a rift between Washington and Islamabad; Pakistani officials angrily condemned the bin Laden mission as a violation of their sovereignty and kicked hundreds of U.S. and British military trainers out of the country in response.
The Pakistani government has long rebuffed American requests to expand its military push into North Waziristan, a lawless border area in the country's mountainous northwest, leaving militants with a sanctuary to plan attacks within both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Intelligence officials there told the Washington Post that CIA drone strikes killed more than 50 people, suspected to be militants, in North and South Waziristan in four strikes starting on Monday night.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan told reporters on Wednesday that the United States intends to work through its relationship with its often-difficult ally, and said relations could improve “over time.”
"We have ups and downs, not only in this relationship—with relationships we have with allies all over the world," Lapan said. "We work through them, that's the purpose of having military-to-military engagements.