The prime minister has simmered down, but not enough to confirm Pakistan’s attendance at the Bonn conference.
Hints of flexibility came after much insistence from German Chancellor Angela Merkel for Pakistan to reconsider boycotting the meeting on the Afghan endgame.
However, the only assurance that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani gave Merkel was that Pakistan’s ambassador to Germany could attend the conference, but only if the parliamentary committee on national security approves.
He turned down Merkel’s request that Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar attend the conference, while Khar herself told a Senate foreign relations committee that Pakistan’s decision was final.
In a special meeting in Lahore on Tuesday, the cabinet had agreed to boycott the conference on the Afghan endgame in protest of Nato’s attack in Mohmand Agency that killed 24 troops in the deadliest assault in a decade.
The calls from the international community to attend the conference were led by Washington. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Pakistan should reconsider its decision, but stopped short of apologising for the deaths of the 24 soldiers.
“Nothing will be gained by turning our backs on mutually beneficial cooperation. Frankly it is regrettable that Pakistan has decided not to attend the conference,” Clinton told a news conference in South Korea.
Clinton voiced regret over Pakistan’s decision, pledging an investigation “as swiftly and thoroughly as possible” into the “tragic incident” and hoping it would find a “follow-up way” to take part in talks on Afghanistan’s future. “What is most important I think is that we learn lessons from this tragedy because we have to continue to work together,” she said.
Afghanistan has also asked Pakistan to reconsider its decision. Speaking to journalists in Karachi about his conversation with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Gilani said, “I replied that the territory of Afghanistan was being used against Pakistan and he said it was done by Nato and I told him to talk to the US about it.”
“I told him that we have to protect our country and work for its security and defence. If we go to Bonn for you, then who will guarantee our security? We cannot just go like this,” he added.
Meanwhile, news from Kabul indicated that Pakistan had resumed some cooperation with US-led forces in Afghanistan.
Nato said Islamabad communicated with the alliance to prevent an exchange of artillery fire late on Tuesday from turning into another international incident. German Brig Gen Carsten Jacobson, a Nato spokesman in Kabul, expressed hope that Pakistan’s cooperation in resolving the incident in eastern Afghanistan’s Paktia province signaled the two sides could recover from the recent tragedy.
Meanwhile, Gilani said the government has asked the US to evacuate the Shamsi airbase by Dec 11.
Speaking to journalists after inaugurating the UAE expo 2011 ceremony, Gilani said: “We have given the Nato forces a deadline and asked them to stop drone attacks because we cannot play a significant role in a war which damages our sovereignty. We need a guarantee that such attacks will not happen again, otherwise we cannot cooperate.”
In Lahore, Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan put the blame on the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz for leasing the base to the US and said the Shamsi Airbase was leased in 1998 when the PML-N’ government was in power.
(WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM AGENCIES)
Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2011.