WASHINGTON - Terming him the most powerful man in Pakistan, a leading American newspaper said Friday that General Raheel Sharif is expected to receive a warmer reception than his predecessor when he makes his first visit to the United States as the army chief this weekend.

“Although Gen Ashfaq Kayani (his predecessor) oversaw two military operations – in Swat Valley and South Waziristan – , he resisted calls to invade North Waziristan which had become a haven not only for the Pakistani Taliban but also for al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network, The Washington Post pointed out in a despatch from Islamabad.

“Since becoming the army chief a year ago, Gen Sharif has overseen a broad military campaign against Islamist extremists in northwestern Pakistan,” Correspondent Tim Craig wrote. “Although it could take months or years to fully assess its effectiveness, US officials say the operation has boosted their confidence in Pakistan’s commitment to combating the terrorist groups operating within its borders.” The army chief’s visit on the invitation of US Joint Chiefs Staff Chairman Gen Martin Dempsey is also taking place in an improved environment with upward trajectory of mutual relations, Pakistan’s disruption of militant groups in North Waziristan with its major Zarb-e-Azb operation.

Last week, Lt-Gen Joseph Anderson, a senior commander of the US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, told reporters that the Haqqani network is now “fractured.”

“That’s based pretty much on the Pakistan ops in North Waziristan this entire summer-falls,” Anderson said in a video conference from Kabul. “That has very much disrupted their efforts here and has caused them to be less effective in terms of their ability to pull off an attack here in Kabul.”

Although other US officials are more guarded in their assessments, Anderson’s remarks are helping to set the tone for Raheel Sharif’s visit, according to The Post. “The week-long trip also coincides with growing optimism that relations among the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan are improving now,” the report noted.

Karzai, who became Afghanistan’s only leader shortly after the US-backed forces ousted the Taliban from power in 2001, was deeply skeptical of Pakistan and widely considered it the root of many of Afghanistan’s woes. He also repeatedly clashed with the Obama administration, setting limits on the US military operations and refusing to allow a residual American troops’ presence after the NATO mission in Afghanistan ended this year.

But President Ashraf Ghani, currently on a visit to Islamabad, within days of taking office, signed an agreement that will keep about 9,800 US troops in Afghanistan next year. Salman Zaidi, a military and political expert at the Islamabad-based Jinnah Institute, was cited as saying there appears to be a genuine effort to put past tensions “back in the box.”

“There is still a lot of debris lying around (in the relations) for the last 10 years, both in terms of Pakistan-US and Pakistan-Afghanistan ties, but the attempt is now there,” Zaidi said. “Karzai was a mercurial personality and everybody found it difficult to deal with him.”

The newspaper noted that in a move last month that surprised many analysts, the army chief expanded the operation to the Khyber Agency.

“This time, the army is not letting up,” Javed Ashraf Qazi, a retired general and former head of ISI, was quoted as saying in the despatch. “The air force, the gunship helicopters, hit them wherever they are, and the army is slowly and gradually moving up into the mountains to their last refuges.”

An unnamed senior US official was cited as saying that the military offensive has “disrupted” but “not damaged” the Haqqanis. Still, the official said, ties between the United States and Pakistan have greatly improved since the 2011 US operation that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

“Pakistan now has substantial control over their whole territory. They have expended a lot on this operation, and we have to give them credit,” the official said. “We also have to hold them to their repeated commitment not to allow the Haqqani network to operate from Pakistan.” According to The Post, analysts expect Raheel Sharif to quickly forge a productive relationship with his US counterparts.

Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies, was quoted as saying that Sharif is known to be assertive, aggressive and outspoken. Kayani, who served as the military chief from late 2007 to last November, was known to be reserved and often said little during meetings.