Even as a key US Congressional panel placed strict conditions on financial and military assistance to Pakistan on Thursday, diplomats and officials in Islamabad said the estranged allies were on the verge of a breakthrough in negotiations.
Both Pakistani and American officials confirmed on Thursday that major ground had been covered on key issues including the reopening of Nato supply routes.
“Talks are still going on but I can say we are very close to a deal,” an American diplomat involved in negotiations told The Express Tribune, adding that a breakthrough is expected before the Nato summit in Chicago on May 20.
The diplomat’s optimism was also shared by a senior foreign office official, who said the groundwork to lift the six-month-old Nato blockade had almost been finalised. The vital land routes have been suspended since November last year when Nato air strikes on a Pakistani check post killed 24 soldiers.
The official went on to add that the two sides were also preparing a draft for the apology which Pakistan had demanded from the US over the incident before reopening Nato supply lines.
“We have offered our deepest regret and condolences at least 20 times but it’s just a few words here and there that could do the job,” said another American diplomat.
The final decision, however, is expected to be taken by the government early next week during a meeting of the cabinet’s defence committee. In anticipation of a major announcement, a meeting of top military commanders is also likely to take place next week.
US bill presses Pakistan
The National Defence Authorisation Act for 2013 approved by the US House Armed Services Committee on Thursday, called for a bar on preferential procurement of goods or services from Pakistan until the reopening of Nato supply routes. The bill is expected to be debated on the House floor later next week.
The NDAA bill calls for a bar on support or reimbursement provided to Pakistan until the secretary of defence provides a report on “the model for reimbursement, including how claims are proposed and adjudicated; new conditions or caveats that the Government of Pakistan places on the use of its supply routes; and the new cost associated with transit through supply routes in Pakistan.”
The new bill has also asked the secretary of defence to certify that Pakistan’s government is committed to taking action and supporting counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda, the Haqqani network, domestic and foreign terrorist organisations, dismantling improvised explosive device (IED) networks and preventing proliferation of nuclear materials.
The bill while extending the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Funds (PCF), also requires the secretary of defence, with the secretary of state’s agreement, to submit updates on what their strategy is to utilise the fund, and what metrics are used to determine progress in the PCF.
If the bill is passed by the House of Representatives, it will have to be approved by the Senate and signed by the president before it becomes part of the law.
House Appropriations Subcommittee
In a separate bill, the US House Appropriations Subcommittee for State and Foreign Operations has called for no economic or security assistance to be given to Pakistan until the secretary of state certifies that Pakistan is cooperating and taking action against terrorist networks. The bill, passed on Wednesday, has been referred to the full committee. No date has been announced for the full committee session yet.
According to the draft of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill, the House subcommittee has proposed that no assistance under Economic Support Fund, International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, Foreign Military Financing Programme and the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund be released until the secretary of state certifies it to the Appropriations committee.
Pakistan, according to the draft bill, must cooperate with the US in counterterrorism efforts against the Haqqani network, al Qaeda, Quetta Shura Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and other domestic and foreign terrorist organisations. Similarly, it must also end support or such groups and “prevent them from basing and operating in Pakistan and carrying out cross border attacks into neighboring countries.” The draft bill says the US Secretary of State must certify that Pakistan is not supporting terrorist activities against US or coalition forces in Afghanistan.
In another stipulation, the certification requires that Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies are not “intervening extra-judicially into political and judicial processes in Pakistan.” The draft bill also calls for Pakistan to dismantle the IED networks, prevent proliferation of nuclear material, and give humanitarian organizations access to detainees, IDPs and those affected by the conflict. The secretary of state will also have to certify that Pakistan is issuing visas in a timely manner to US visitors involved in counterterrorism or aid operations.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2012.
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