ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Secretary Chuck Hagel landed in Islamabad early Monday morning to discuss security cooperation between the two countries as well as the drawdown of U.S. forces from neighboring Afghanistan.
He met with Chief of Army Staff, General Rahaeel Sharif, before sitting down with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his senior cabinet members. The visit, which lasted just under three hours, is the first by a U.S. Defense Secretary in nearly four years.
Coming on the heels of his trip to Kabul, Secretary Hagel greeted the prime minister by noting he had just left Afghanistan and said that the U.S. and Pakistan have a “lot of common and mutual interests.” At the top of the Secretary’s agenda was the issue of key supply routes which U.S. and NATO-coalition forces use to ferry equipment into Afghanistan via Pakistan.
Those passageways -- Ground Lines of Communication, or GLOCs -- will be heavily used by the U.S. as it withdraws military troops and equipment through the coming year.
No U.S. traffic has passed through Torkham Gate, one of the major border crossings, during the month of December due to ongoing protests against U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. The drone strikes are a highly-controversial issue in Pakistan due to civilian casualties and the anxiety they cause in local populations.
Prime Minister Sharif has publicly called on the U.S. to halt the strikes, while U.S. officials say that Pakistan’s leaders have privately given their approval. A senior defense official said that Sharif and Hagel had a “strategic level of conversation” that included both topics during their hour-long meeting. The official said that no resolution was reached on the issue of drones.
Hagel did press Sharif about the current interruption of traffic at the Torkham Gate. Sharif is said to have provided assurances that the matter would be resolved soon.
The U.S. does have significant financial leverage. Pakistan received more than $10 billion in Coalition Support Funds (CSF) since 2001 -- money with which the U.S. government reimburses costs incurred in support of counterinsurgency related operations. A senior defense official traveling with Hagel told reporters that the Pakistanis are clearly concerned that the issue of GLOCs could complicate the delivery of those funds to their government.
This is not the first time that the GLOCs have become an issue. Previously, following a de facto suspension of relations between the two countries in 2012, Pakistan shut off U.S. access via the GLOCs. That closure was costly, as the U.S. military had to use less convenient, alternate routes.
After seven months of closure,Pakistan reopened the GLOCs following a U.S. statement of regret for a US airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border.
Hagel also discussed counterterrorism efforts, specifically threats posed by attacks carried out on U.S. forces in Afghanistan by the Haqqani network, designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization.
A large portion of the more than $16 billion in security assistance and reimbursements the U.S. has given to Pakistan since 2002 has been intended to improve security cooperation.
For 2014, President Obama has requested $305 million in military aid and $858 million in civilian assistance.No new aid was announced during Hagel's visit.