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What is the ISI chief doing in Beijing?

Last updated on: August 1, 2011 11:58 IST

Image: Pasha (right) with Pakistan Army chief Gen Kayani
Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad

Inter-Services Intelligence chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha has embarked on a secret visit to China that is being seen as part of Pakistan's efforts to reduce its dependence on the United States in the wake of strained military and intelligence ties.

Pasha is expected to open a "broad-based strategic dialogue" with Beijing during his visit, The Express Tribune newspaper quoted its sources as saying. The visit came less than two weeks after a trip to Beijing by Lt Gen Waheed Arshad, Chief of General Staff of the Pakistan Army.

The ISI chief travelled to China days after the sudden departure of the Central Intelligence Agency station chief in Islamabad and an attack in the restive Xinjiang region that Chinese authorities blamed on Islamic militants trained in a camp in Pakistan.

Visit is 'the option of a strategic dialogue'

Image: Pakistan flag flies alongside a Chinese flag in front of the portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong on Beijing's Tiananmen Square
Photographs: David Gray/Reuters

Lt Gen Arshad undertook a week-long trip to Beijing last month to discuss what officials in Islamabad described as "the option of a strategic dialogue" between Pakistan and China on the pattern oaf the Pakistan-US engagement, The Express Tribune reported.

Pasha was to leave for Beijing on Sunday evening, a security official told the daily but did not give details of his itinerary or the exact nature of his trip. The ISI refused to confirm or deny the visit.

An unnamed senior official of the ISI said such visits are classified. The back-to-back trips to China by senior Pakistani military and intelligence officials are believed to be

"necessitated by the simmering tensions between Pakistan and the US", the report said.

China: An all-weather friend for Pakistan

Image: Chinese and Pakistani soldiers take part in an anti-terrorism drill
Photographs: China Daily/Reuters

The visits come against the backdrop of a fresh row between Islamabad and Washington over the Pakistan government's new restrictions on the movements of American diplomats and the sudden departure of the CIA station chief.

US media said the CIA station chief left Pakistan abruptly for medical reasons but some reports indicated his departure was due to tension between the ISI and CIA.

In the weeks following the covert raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May, Pakistan's security establishment has cracked down on a network of Pakistani and American operatives created by the CIA and attempted to restrict the movement of American personnel.

The outgoing CIA station chief oversaw the team that helped track down the world's most wanted man. At the same time, Pakistani officials have been looking at China, usually referred to as an "all weather friend", to boost military and strategic ties.

China believes in 'quiet diplomacy'

Image: Soldiers from the Chinese People's Liberation Army
Photographs: Reuters

"China is our long-term partner and we have very close cooperation and consultation with them on all major issues, including the ongoing tension with the US," an unnamed Pakistani military official was quoted as saying.

China believes in "quiet diplomacy" and this was one of the reasons that Pasha's visit was being kept under wraps, the official said.

The Chinese leadership has offered Pakistan a broad- based strategic dialogue to help the country meet its growing needs in energy, defence and other key fields, he said. The move is part of a long-term plan to minimise Pakistan's dependence on the US, he said.

Pak can't afford a complete breakdown with the US

Image: An anti-US rally in Karachi
Photographs: Athar Hussain/Reuters

Another official said enhanced strategic partnership with China did not necessarily mean that Pakistan wants "any confrontation with the US". He said: "At present, we heavily rely on US military hardware... the Americans are the main suppliers of artillery, (helicopter) gunships and our air defence system".

The Chinese contribution is increasing but Pakistan cannot afford a complete breakdown of its relationship with the US, the official said.

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