Amidst growing realisation that it cannot keep the Nato supply route blocked for long, Pakistan has dropped the clearest hint yet that it might review a decision that has put its relations with not ‘only the US but another 42 countries’ in a tailspin.
Monday saw a flurry of activity in the federal capital including a high-level civil-military huddle at the Presidency suggesting the government’s willingness to revive cooperation with the US-led foreign forces stationed in Afghanistan.
The meetings followed Sunday’s huddle of top military commanders from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nato in Rawalpindi where, according to officials, the issues of Nato supply routes and last year’s deadly US air raid were also discussed.
On Monday, back-to-back statements by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar made it abundantly clear that the government is ready to drop its insistence on a formal US apology over the killing of two dozen Pakistani troops in the airstrikes on border posts in Salala, Mohmand Agency.
“It’s not a matter of one, but 43 countries,” the premier told journalists in Islamabad, giving an indication that by its refusal to lift the blockade Islamabad would risk its ties with not just the US but all countries of the North-Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato).
Gilani conceded that “Pakistan and the US are engaged in a dialogue for the resumption of Nato supplies in light of parliament’s recommendations.”
At a joint news conference with Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, Foreign Minister Khar went a step further by saying that Pakistan wanted to ‘move beyond’ the Salala incident as it had made its point by keeping the Nato routes shut for almost six months.
“I think we need a closure on that and move on,” Khar said after attending a high-powered meeting jointly chaired by President Asif Zardari and Premier Gilani. The meeting was attended by Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and key members of the federal cabinet.
An official told The Express Tribune that the gathering at the Presidency was meant to take stock of the ongoing negotiations between Pakistan and the US to reset their troubled ties.
The talks, which have been going on for a couple of weeks, appear to have moved closer to a deal that would pave way for the resumption of Nato supplies as well as Pakistan’s participation in a key Nato summit.
Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen had said earlier this week that Pakistan’s participation in the summit in Chicago, scheduled for May 20-21, hinges on its decision on the supply route for the alliance’s mission in Afghanistan.
Ahead of the key meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet today (Tuesday), the Kaira-Khar press conference is being seen as an attempt to prepare ground for a possible decision to lift the blockade.
Foreign Minister Khar also confirmed that negotiations between Pakistan and the US were heading in the right direction.
“We want to continue to be a facilitator, enabler and not a blocker,” was her response when asked if the government wanted to lift the Nato blockade.
“It was important to make a point, and Pakistan has made a point and now we need to move on and go into a positive zone,” she added.
She confirmed that the issue of unconditional apology for the Nato air strikes was currently being discussed. “As demanded by parliament, we have raised this issue with the US at all levels,” Khar maintained. However, she did not say if the US had made any commitment to tender an apology.
In reply to a question, Information Minister Kaira reiterated the government’s opposition to US drone strikes inside the tribal belt. “As far as the government is concerned we are very much clear that drone strikes are a violation of our sovereignty,” he added.
“There are protests in Islamabad, there are protests in other cities against drone attacks, but why there are no such protests in the tribal areas,” the minister questioned.
Meeting of oil tanker owners
In anticipation of a possible lifting of the Nato blockade, the petroleum ministry has convened a meeting of oil tanker owners in Islamabad on Tuesday, sources told The Express Tribune.
“All concerned officials will attend the meeting which will discuss the impact of a possible reopening of Nato supply routes,” a source said.
Another source added that security officials would also attend the meeting and brief the oil tanker owners on the steps to be taken for the security of their vehicles against attacks from Taliban insurgents.
A Peshawar-based oil tanker owner told The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity that they have been asked by the petroleum ministry to stay alert because the government is set to reopen the Nato routes.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 15th, 2012.
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