ISLAMABAD — Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Gen. Raheel Sharif, wrapped up a four-day visit to Australia.
On the August 5-8 vist, Sharif discussed regional security and defense cooperation with Australia's defense minister David Johnston and defense secretary Dennis Richardson. He also met Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade Secretary Peter Varghese, and Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop.
Among the topics discussed were "Pakistan’s security perspective in connection with its ongoing Operation in North Waziristan," its "overall counter terrorism contributions not only within Pakistan but for the entire region and beyond," and its counter-IED expertise, according to the Pakistan military's media relations branch, Inter Service Public relations (ISPR).
Sharif also talked about strengthening defense ties with Australian Army Chief Lt. Gen. David Morrison, then took part in a roundtable discussion hosted by Australia's Vice Chief of Defence Forces, Vice Adm. Ray Griggs, along with the other service chiefs and senior Ministry of Defence officials.
A former Australian defense attaché to Islamabad, Brian Cloughley, expressed initial surprise that Australia had invited Sharif, "as Canberra much favors India and is trying to forge closer economic ties, including supply of uranium."
He says Australia's tilt towards India may hamper development of its bilateral relationship with Pakistan.
"There had been talk of Pakistan and Australia cooperating over drones, but given the India card I don't see that happening. New Delhi would object vociferously," he said.
Cloughley described the visit as "routine" and said he would have been surprised had "anything substantive" come from the visit.
Pakistan analyst Claude Rakisits, a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, said Australia wants to build on an emerging relationship.
"During the decade-long involvement in Afghanistan, Australia built up an important military relationship with Pakistan, particularly, but not solely, in the area of counter-insurgency,” Rakisits said. “Australia would want to continue to build on that as we move on to a post-2014 situation in Afghanistan.”
He added, "It is important note that after the US, Australia is Pakistan's most important partner in counter-insurgency training."
He says efforts to improve the bilateral relationship have been going on for some years now.
"Australia and Pakistan have had high-level strategic talks, both official and 1.5 track, for about five years and these have been an opportunity to have an exchange on issues of common interest to both countries. I was involved in the 1.5-track dialogue a couple of years ago and I found them very frank and a window on the Pakistan military's views of the world."
Rakisits says there is obvious motive for Australia wanting to be on good terms with Pakistan.
"While the Australia-Pakistan relationship is not that deep in general, Canberra wants to keep all channels of communication open with an increasingly important country in a region which is so critically important to peace and stability in the world,” he said.