ISLAMABAD: A joint session of the parliament due to review the troubled alliance with the United States has been delayed until next month at the earliest, Senator Salim Saifullah Khan said Monday.
Saifullah told reporters that the session would be “sometime after March 12”, but indicated that it could be postponed even longer owing to foot-dragging over the status of the US relationship.
Senate elections take place on March 2 and the new lawmakers in the upper house of parliament will be sworn in on March 11, pointed out the chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee.
The review is considered key to getting Pakistani-US diplomatic relations onto a more solid footing after US air strikes last November killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and brought the relationship to its lowest point in years.
The review, which Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar had said will “hopefully” be passed in the first half of February, is currently being drawn up by the parliamentary committee on national security.
The November 26 air strikes capped a disastrous year for an alliance already seriously compromised by the cover raid to kill Osama bin Laden on May 2 and the detention of a CIA contractor who killed two Pakistanis in January 2011.
Islamabad closed its border crossings to NATO supplies and ordered US personnel to leave the Shamsi airbase, reportedly a hub for covert American drone strikes against the Taliban and al Qaeda in the tribal belt.
This month, Islamabad reacted angrily to a resolution from a US lawmaker calling for self-determination in Balochistan province and the burning of the Holy Quran on a US airbase in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Khan described these as “irritants, which I’m sure, when debated in the joint session will play a major role in discussions” and can be used “to bring a wedge between the United States and Pakistan”.
He then later told reporters: “Maybe there’s no joint session in March”, indicating the possibility of further delays.
When Pakistan eventually re-opens the Afghan border to NATO trucks, it is widely expected to tax convoys carrying supplies shipped to its port in Karachi and trucked through its territory to landlocked Afghanistan.
The United States has made increasing use of alternative routes into Afghanistan through the north in order to mitigate against losses in Pakistan.