US Defence Secretary Robert Gates is visiting Pakistan with a 125-member team for a two-day talks with Islamabad administration after completing his visit to India.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates along with his 125-member delegation will arrive in Islamabad later this week, US sources told Dawn newspaper’s Washington Correspondent Anwar Iqbal.

The two-day talks are expected to focus on the new Afghan strategy, which revolves around Pakistan as the central player in the US-led war against terror in the Pak-Afghan region.

The two sides will also discuss America’s military assistance to Pakistan while the Pakistanis are likely to underline the “slow pace of delivering US military equipment to the country,” said a source familiar with the expected agenda. US sources say that Pakistan wants increased military support to combat extremists while Washington wants Islamabad to expand the war from South to North Waziristan, where it says the Afghan Taliban are located. Pakistan has yet to make the strategic decision to expand the war but the Obama team is pushing hard for that as part of their new surge strategy.

Pakistan is also likely to raise the issue of delay in reimbursement of the Coalition Support Funds. Islamabad is still waiting for the reimbursement of up to $2 billion of claims it has already submitted to Washington.

Another item on Pakistan’s agenda is likely to be the drone attacks that have killed some prominent terrorists since they began in the final year of the Bush administration. But the drones have also killed hundreds of civilians, causing a widespread resentment against the US-led war.

Mr Gates may raise the drone issue as well, urging Pakistan to stop public criticism of the air strikes because it believes that Islamabad’s reaction further increases anti-American sentiments in the country.

The American delegation may also discuss military supply routes to Afghanistan, which run through Pakistan, and the expansion of the military presence at the US embassy in Pakistan.

The Pentagon’s representation at the embassy, known as the Office of the Defence Representative, is growing from 45 to 280 personnel, causing some concern among the Pakistani military.

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Secretary Gates’ high-powered delegation includes assistant secretary of defence, a deputy assistant secretary and several senior advisers, besides dozens of security experts.

This will be Mr Gates’ first visit to Islamabad under the Obama administration and also his first in two years. Mr Gates is expected to meet the entire Pakistani leadership, including President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

In the Pakistani defence establishment, he is scheduled to meet Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and ISI chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha.

Mr Gates will be among a host of senior US officials to visit Islamabad since Washington started contemplating a new strategy for the Pak-Afghan region late last year. Senior administration officials who have gone to Islamabad lately include Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and others.

While Pentagon is reluctant to publicly discuss Mr Gates’ visit to Islamabad, it has confirmed that the US defence secretary will visit New Delhi from Jan 19 to 21.

Regional security, Afghanistan and the tense relations between India and Pakistan will top the agenda for Mr Gates’ meetings with India’s prime minister, the Pentagon said.

Agencies add: Mr Gates leaves the US for India on Monday seeking to strengthen military ties with New Delhi, even as Washington focuses on Pakistan as a top foreign policy priority.

The Jan 19-21 visit includes talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has sought US help getting Islamabad to crack down on extremists blamed for the attacks in Mumbai in 2008.

US officials, briefing journalists ahead of the trip, acknowledged the meetings would likely touch on tensions between India and Pakistan as well as efforts by both US and Indian militaries to work closer together, including counter-terrorism efforts. “We obviously share an interest in protecting both of our homelands from attack from terrorist organisations,” a senior US defence official said.

The United States is also calling on allies like India to step up their roles in Afghanistan following President Barack Obama’s decision last month to send an additional 30,000 troops to battle a resurgent Taliban.
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