By Zeeshan Haider
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan and the United States have agreed to resume joint intelligence operations against Islamist militants, the Pakistani foreign ministry said on Friday, in a first step toward rebuilding trust between the two countries.
The announcement came a week after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed Pakistan's civilian and military leaders to take decisive steps against militant groups operating in the country after the discovery of Osama bin Laden in a garrison town.
"There will be joint operations. These could be intelligence sharing," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua told Reuters.
Asked whether Pakistan would allow U.S. troops to conduct operations along with their Pakistani counterparts, she said she would not go into details.
However, she added: "Obviously the question of sovereignty is supreme to us and everything will be done through consultations."
A U.S. official traveling with Clinton during her visit to Islamabad last week suggested at the time there could be special operations to attack militants in Pakistan, seen as a threat to not just foreign forces in Afghanistan, but also Western interests elsewhere.
Bin Laden's discovery and killing by American special forces in a garrison town just 50 km (30 miles) from the capital Islamabad on May 2 raised fresh doubts about Pakistan's reliability as a U.S. partner against militancy.
Joint intelligence operations between Pakistan and the United States since 2001 have led to the arrest of several key al Qaeda and Taliban figures in Pakistan.
However, such operations had been frozen since January following the arrest of CIA contractor Raymond Davis for shooting to death two Pakistanis. Davis was finally released after the paying of monetary compensation to the heirs of slain people under an Islamic law prevalent in Pakistan.
A Pakistan analyst said resumption of joint operations was a "step in the right direction" but both uneasy allies need to do a lot more to mitigate their mistrust.
"It shows they are trying to restore their confidence in each other and trying to get the best possible results through a joint approach rather then pursuing individual approaches," said Talat Masood, a security analyst and a retired general.
"(But) mistrust won't go away right away. ... We have to wait and see how this is implemented."
Washington sees Islamabad as a critical ally in its efforts to stabilize war-ravaged Afghanistan but their relations have always been shrouded in mistrust and suspicions.
In a sign of continuing difficulties in ties, Pakistan has asked the United States to halve the presence of military trainers, numbering around 130, stationed in the country.
U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen told reporters in Washington on Thursday that there would be a significant cutback in the number of U.S. trainers, but it was "not going to zero."
(Editing by Chris Allbritton and Sanjeev Miglani)