WASHINGTON — The United States and Pakistan are resuming high-level counterterrorism talks suspended over a deadly border incident last year, with Pakistan’s spy chief set to visit Washington late this month, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.
They start at an impasse, with the U.S. already determined to reject Pakistan’s demands to end CIA drone strikes. Pakistani officials will also be pushing a plan to replace the CIA drone campaign with Pakistani F-16 strikes, and eventually its own armed drone fleet — a proposal that U.S. officials say they have rejected many times before.
The divergent views reflect the deterioration in U.S.-Pakistani ties over the last 18 months, and the hardening of positions on both sides. The clash over CIA drone strikes that the U.S. sees as crucial to routing militants sets a combative tone for the first meeting between Pakistani intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam and CIA Director David Petraeus, at CIA headquarters in Virginia.
Yet each side is also signaling a willingness to improve cooperation.
Pakistani officials say they may allow the return of some U.S. military personnel to operate mobile intelligence centers with the Pakistani army in the lawless tribal regions. The presence of U.S. troops on Pakistani soil is an extremely sensitive subject in Pakistan, where anti-American feeling runs high.
The U.S. is working to meet Pakistan’s new requests for logistical and equipment support to improve the performance and accuracy of the country’s F-16 fleet, according to current and former U.S. officials, who spoke anonymously.
U.S. officials insisted CIA drone strikes on Pakistani territory must continue, because Pakistan’s U.S.-approved F-16 program is still no match for the accuracy of the CIA campaign.
They cite a failed experiment last fall, where U.S. officials gave the Pakistanis coordinates of a Taliban outpost in the remote tribal areas. The Pakistani F-16s carried out a nighttime bombing raid using night-vision-enabled targeting pods on a squadron of modernized F-16s the U.S. sold them in 2010. The pilots hit “the wrong chain of mountains,” said one former U.S. official. The explosion signaled the attack to the militants, who fled.
U.S. officials also say the Pakistanis would be reluctant to target U.S. enemies like the Haqqani network, which maintains an informal peace with the Pakistani military while attacking U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials cite at least three cases where they believe the Pakistani military or intelligence service tipped off Haqqani militants after the U.S. shared their location. The officials say they would have to see the Pakistani military go after the network in ground operations, before they would consider curtailing U.S. counterterrorist activity.