In the end, flexibility earned for both the United States and Pakistan what they mutually yearned for: an end to the protracted stalemate between the two allies.
Just as soon as an apology was tendered by Washington for last year’s Salala check post deaths, Islamabad announced the lifting of a seven-month-long ban on vital Nato supply routes for foreign forces stationed in Afghanistan.
The much-anticipated decision was taken at a high-powered gathering of the country’s civil and military leadership in the wake of the recent developments indicating that the two sides were close to a deal.
The Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) meeting was chaired by Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and attended by key federal ministers as well as services and intelligence chiefs.
“The DCC has decided in principle to reopen the Nato supply routes,” Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira told reporters outside the Prime Minister House.
The minister said that the government has decided to move beyond the Salala incident after the US showed “flexibility” in its stance by tendering an “apology.”
A statement issued after the meeting said that no “lethal cargo”, except equipment for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), will go into Afghanistan.
The government also dropped its earlier demand of imposing taxes and additional transit fees on trucks carrying goods for the Nato forces.
When Islamabad had shut down the key border crossings in November last year in retaliation to the Nato air strikes on Pakistani check posts that killed 24 soldiers, only a handful could have predicted that the impasse would last this long.
But the two allies have finally brokered a deal after days of intense negotiations and deliberations. The breakthrough comes amidst Pakistan agreeing to accept a mild statement from US saying “sorry” instead of offering an outright apology for the contentious attack.
Sources said the Obama administration conveyed to Pakistan in clear terms that it would confine itself to saying “sorry” and not offer an “unconditional apology” due to domestic compulsions.
“Pakistan will continue not to charge any transit fee but the issue in the first place was not of financial gain but of the principle of sovereignty,” a statement said.
Anticipating the possible reaction, the government claimed that it had implemented the policy recommendations approved by parliament in April this year to reset ties with the United States.
The government has attempted to justify its decision by claiming that it was in Pakistan’s best interest to support the transition, peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan as Nato/Isaf forces drawdown by 2014.
“To enable a smooth transition in Afghanistan it was essential for the military to drawdown at a lower cost and through an efficient transit facility,” it argued.
The DCC reiterated Pakistan’s stance on drones and agreed to continue to engage the US on counter-terrorism tools that are in line with international law and practice.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2012.