ISI chief to visit US to hold talks with CIA

Islamabad/Washington: Signalling a possible thaw in Pak-US relations, ISI chief Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam will visit Washington next week to hold talks on counter terrorism cooperation and to improve the fractured bilateral ties. Islam`s first visit to US comes two months after he had postponed an earlier scheduled trip in May citing "pressing commitments".

The ties between the two allies had spiralled down over the cross-border NATO air strike in November last year that had killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Islam, who was appointed in March, will hold talks with CIA chief David Petraeus, and other senior American officials to discuss matters related to counter-terrorism cooperation.

According to Pakistani media reports, Islam will take up the contentious issue of drone strikes carried out by spy planes in Pakistan. Pakistan is likely to push a plan to replace the CIA drone campaign with Pakistani F-16 strikes, and eventually its own armed drone fleet, a proposal that US officials say they have rejected before.

The visit of Islam is seen as a major development in bilateral ties which has gone through a very rocky patch since the last 18 months. A number incidents including the US unilateral raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden had send the relations spiralling downward.

The biggest blow came after the November incident following which Pakistan closed down NATO supply routes to Afghanistan and a number of US military personnel were asked to leave. Back in May when Islam had postponed his visit, US and Pakistan were still deadlocked on a number of issues particularly the reopening of NATO supply routes. The supply routes finally reopened on July 4 after US officials expressed regret over the loss of Pakistani soldiers` lives.