Pakistan appears to have given in to mounting Western pressure – finally.
Islamabad is inching closer to unplugging the Nato supply routes that it had blocked in protest at the November 26, 2011 deadly Nato air raid on Pakistani border posts in Mohmand Agency.
On Wednesday, the country’s top civil and military leadership evolved a consensus on lifting the almost four-month-long blockade – but under ‘tough conditions’.
The supply routes for US-led foreign forces stationed in Afghanistan are expected to reopen later this month after Parliament approves new terms of engagements with the United States.
However, it is unclear what ‘tough conditions’ Pakistan is considering for unblocking the Nato supply routes.
A high-powered huddle at the Presidency decided to convene a much-awaited joint session of Parliament on March 17 to debate and approve new rules of engagements with the US.
The meeting was chaired by President Asif Zardari and attended by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, the director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence, the air force chief, the foreign secretary and leaders of the coalition partners.
An official told The Express Tribune that the meeting reviewed the recommendations finalised by an all-party, bicameral parliamentary panel.
It was the first time the country’s top civil and military leadership discussed the draft proposals, in a move that indicates that the government now wants to complete the parliamentary review at the earliest.
The US has privately expressed its ‘frustration’ over the delay in the process, as alternative routes for Nato supplies are much costlier than the land routes of Pakistan.
“There was a general consensus among the participants that we now have to reopen the Nato supply routes,” the official said, while requesting anonymity. “For once, we have conveyed our principled position to the US regarding our red lines and we believe that it is very well received in Washington,” the official added.
A statement issued from the Presidency, however, did not specifically mention whether the meeting discussed Pakistan-US ties. “The meeting was briefed about security and foreign policy-related issues,” it added.
Presidential spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar told The Express Tribune that the meeting was convened to brief the coalition parties on issues of national security and foreign policy.
He attempted to play down the hype on whether the high-level gathering had taken any decision on reopening the Nato routes. “It was a routine briefing arranged at the request of the coalition partners,” said Babar.
He maintained that the decision to reopen the supply routes would be taken by Parliament.
Another official said that the briefing was a part of government’s preparations to summon a joint session of Parliament.
Ahead of the session, the government would also take into confidence the opposition parties, including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, about its likely decision to reopen the Nato supply routes. “We have taken the coalition partners into confidence, and in the next phase we will brief the opposition parties,” the official disclosed.
The consultations are aimed at ensuring a smooth passage of the new terms of engagements with the US.
Meanwhile, key US officials are expected to travel to Pakistan as soon as Parliament completes the review this month.
Head of US military’s Central Command (Centcom) General James N Mattis and Special Envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Marc Grossman will visit Islamabad to revive cooperation under the new terms of engagements.
In Washington, a defence department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that they have seen media reports about the reopening of Nato supply routes. “As far as we know no final decision has been made. Such a decision awaits a parliamentary review which so far has not happened.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 15th, 2012.