After an almost two-month long impasse with the United States, following the cross-border Nato airstrikes in Salala, it is believed that Islamabad is inching towards mending severed ties with its disenchanted ally, and set to resume full spectrum of bilateral ties with the US.
The development was also followed by media reports that Pakistan expects to re-open supply routes to Nato forces in Afghanistan soon. While a foreign ministry spokesperson described such reports as speculative, diplomatic sources have confirmed that Islamabad has given the nod for the resumption of Nato supplies once parliament approves new terms of engagements with the US.
An unnamed senior security official told Reuters that Pakistan expects to re-open supply routes to Nato forces in Afghanistan but will impose tariffs. The official said the fees were designed to both, express continued anger over the Nov 26 attack and raise funds for the state to fight homegrown Taliban militants blamed for many of the suicide bombings across the country.
“The tariffs will cover everything from the port to security to roads, which after all belong to Pakistan,” the security official, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters.
No date was given for reopening the supply routes. Pakistan’s trade ministry was working out details of the tariffs, said the official. Asked if the re-opening was a sign that the crisis in relations could be tackled, the official said there was some way to go before normalcy was possible.
The two land routes to Afghanistan through Pakistan account for just under a third of all cargo that the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) ships into Afghanistan.
‘Conveniently on hold’
Meanwhile, in an exclusive interview given to Reuters, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar dispelled any immediate resumption of ties between the allies before the parliamentary review of ties underway is complete.
“Now that the re-evaluation process is underway as we speak, so till the time that that re-evaluation process in not complete, we cannot start the re-engagement,” Khar said.
However, the foreign minister said the proposals for the tenor and rules for relations with the United States could be out within days.
“We are trying to push for it as we speak,” Khar said. “I know that they have completed their recommendations and we will look for an appropriate day to hold the joint session of parliament. The recommendations could come out in days.”
The foreign minister also went on to add that the US needs to be patient and gain a greater understanding of the region’s complexities before acting, adding that pressure would only hurt efforts to pacify Afghanistan.
“‘Push’ is never wise. I think that every country must be allowed to develop their own strategy and their own timing,” said a confident Khar, adding that ties were conveniently on hold for now.
Khar did strike a positive note, stressing the long partnership was vital for the two countries.
“I think this will also give us the ability, if we play it right, to strengthen the partnership and to make it much, much more effective,” she said.
“Let me categorically say that we consider our relations and our relationship with the US to be an extremely important one.”
Earlier in the week, Islamabad declined to host US special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan Marc Grossman, who is on a tour of the region to discuss Afghan reconciliation process.
Foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit, however, moved to play down the apparent snub on Thursday.
“As far as Mr. Grossman’s visit, we want this visit to be productive and result-oriented. It is, therefore, important that he visits Pakistan after we have completed our homework,” Basit told reporters at the weekly briefing, adding that Pakistan was looking forward to re-engaging with the US on issues of mutual interest and importance.
It is believed that Pakistan’s move to snub Grossman had more to do with the domestic compulsion as the government does not want to convey any mixed messages to the public by hosting a US official at a time when the review of ties is yet to be finalised.
(WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM REUTERS)
Published in The Express Tribune, January 20th, 2012.