ISLAMABAD: While parliament squabbles over the contours of a future relationship with the United States, Islamabad and Washington have agreed to revisit two key issues: Nato supplies and military reimbursements.
Both sides on Wednesday agreed to introduce a new framework that will cover military compensation for Pakistani troops fighting the war on terror and the price to be charged to Nato containers supplying goods to troops stationed in Afghanistan at present, and for the pullout of heavy equipment when coalition forces withdraw in 2014.
Formal negotiations on the proposed framework will begin once parliament passes the new terms of engagements with the US, said an official after talks between Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and visiting US Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides.
Nides is the second high-profile US official to visit Pakistan following last week’s talks between top military commanders of the two countries in Rawalpindi.
Nides held separate talks with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and the finance minister. He then met with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and proceeded to Lahore to call on President Asif Ali Zardari.
An American diplomat described talks between Nides and top Pakistani officials as “substantive, robust and a step in the right direction.”
In a statement read out along with Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani, Nides urged Pakistan to adopt a balanced approach in its review of relationship with the US.
“We believe that we can achieve a balanced approach in a relationship that respects Pakistan’s sovereignty and interests but also represents our concerns about our national security,” Nides said. “Too much is at stake for us to turn away from each other, so we must work through all of these challenges,” he added.
Prime Minister Gilani told the visiting US official that relations “must be based on mutual respect and mutual interest.”
“We can achieve our objective – peace and stability in the region and Afghan reconciliation – through greater cooperation and on the basis of mutual trust,” Gilani was quoted as saying in a statement from his office.
CSF and Nato supplies
A Pakistani official confirmed that the two sides discussed the broader parameters of a new framework covering two key issues: the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) and Nato supplies.
The contours of the new framework will be discussed by the finance minister on the sidelines of the spring meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the official added.
The talks in Washington will decide if payments on account of CSF will continue, and what will be the formula for calculation.
Pakistan’s military has proposed abandoning the voucher-based calculation and adopt a more transparent and internationally-recognised mechanism for CSF reimbursements.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the finance minister also raised the issue of pending claims worth $2.5 billion on account of CSF, but the US official said the releases would depend on Parliament’s resolution.
The most important component of the new framework will be development charges on transportation of Nato containers.
Officials said Pakistan is expecting that roughly 80,000 to 100,000 containers would pass through Pakistan during the withdrawal period.
Both the sides also reviewed projects initiated with cooperation of the US. An official said that Nides reiterated his government’s pledge for providing $500 million to build the Diamer-Bhasha Dam.
The visiting US official also hinted at bringing the World Bank on board to finance the dam which has an estimated price tag of $11.2 billion.
Earlier, the World Bank had refused to finance the project saying it was located in a disputed territory.
Meeting with the president
Nides also called on President Zardari at the Governor House in Lahore.
The president said the democratic process may appear to be “long and noisy but should be valued for being lasting and fruitful.”
He said the government is awaiting the completion of parliamentary review process to reset bilateral ties. Nides said the US respected the parliamentary review process and looks forward to its early completion. (WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM ABDUL MANAN IN LAHORE)
Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2012.