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US-Pakistan Top Secret Military Talks

Paper provided with the courtesy of the Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. Also available on

The “New York Times” reported as follows on August 28,2008: “Top US and Pakistani army commanders had a highly unusual secret meeting on board an American aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean to discuss how to combat the escalating violence along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The leading actors in the day long conference were Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.The meeting had been convened on Tuesday (August 26) by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. While officials of the two allies offered few details on Wednesday about what was decided or even discussed at the meeting – including any new strategies, tactics, weapons or troop deployment- the star-studded list of participants and an extreme secrecy surrounding the talks underscored how gravely the two nations regarded the growing militant threat.”.

2.The top secrecy surrounding the talks between Admiral Mullen and Gen.Kayani brings to mind a similar top secret meeting between Gen.Jehangir Karamat, the then Pakistani Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), and Gen.Anthony Zinni, the then chief of the US Central Command, on the tarmac of a Pakistani airport before the US launched Cruise missile strikes against Osama bin Laden and the training camps of Al Qaeda in Afghan territory in August,1998, in retaliation for the Al Qaeda-organised explosions outside the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam.

3.The US had fixed the Cruise missile strikes on a day (August 20,1998) when bin Laden was expected to visit a training camp to meet a group of Al Qaeda volunteers, who had completed the training. Nawaz Sharif was then the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The US did not want his Government to know in advance about the planned Cruise missile attacks lest the information leak to Al Qaeda. At the same time, it was worried that if the Pakistani Army detected the incoming Cruise missiles, it might mistake them for missiles launched by India and this could lead to a war between India and Pakistan.

4.Just before the launch of the missiles, Gen.Zinni landed in a Pakistani airport secretly. Only Karamat was informed in advance about his landing. Zinni had requested him to meet him secretly for a discussion on the tarmac of the airport. He also asked Karamat to come alone to the airport without being accompanied by any of his officers. As the two took a stroll on the tarmac, Zinni told Karamat about the impending missile strikes and asked him not to tell Nawaz or anybody else about the strikes. Immediately thereafter, Zinni took off. Shortly thereafter, the missiles were launched from US naval ships.

5.The missiles destroyed only some training camps of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) of Pakistan in Afghan territory. Al Qaeda camps had been evacuated from the area targeted by the Cruise missiles. Bin Laden had cancelled his visit to one of the camps. He and his camps escaped the strike.

6.Till today, it has been a mystery as to how bin Laden and his Al Qaeda came to know of the date and time of the strike. Did they get their information from their own sources? Or did Karamat inform his officers and Nawaz in violation of the assurance given by him to Zinni and did any of them leak out? No answer is available to any of these questions.

7.Recently, US military officers have been complaining in their testimonies to the Congressional committees as well as in their briefings of the media that the collusion between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Taliban has reached such an extent that the Taliban and Al Qaeda had come to know in advance in some cases about planned strikes by US Predator aircraft on the hide-outs of these organizations in Pakistan. While some Predator strikes were successful, many others were not. 

8.It is learnt from reliable Afghan sources that the NATO officials based in Afghanistan suspect that the leakages had been taking place not only from the ISI and some sections of the Pakistan Army, but also from some members of the Pakistan Government headed by Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani. The US suspicions are particularly focussed on the Awami National Party of Afsandyar Wali Khan, and the Jamiat-ul-Islam Pakistan of Maulana Fazlur Rahman It is understood that this matter of leakages of information was raised by President George Bush with Gilani when the latter visited Washington DC in the last week of July,2008.

9.It is likely that one of the purposes of the top secret meeting between Mullen and Kayani on board a US aircraft-carrier was to discuss how to prevent such leakages.(29-8-08)

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.