The impasse on resumption of ties with the United States lies on two fronts – between Islamabad and Washington, and between Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
The country’s top political and military leadership appears to be in a fix on how to move forward to repair troubled ties with the US after Washington’s reluctance to apologise over last year’s Salala attacks, and halting drone strikes.
The civilian and military leaders met for a third time, in two weeks, but crucial decisions, including reopening of land routes for Nato supplies and attending a Nato summit in Chicago later this month, were deferred.
“The situation is as it was two weeks ago … there isn’t any change on both sides,” said a participant of Wednesday’s meeting presided over by President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.
Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, ISI’s Director General Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam, key federal ministers and Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman attended the meeting that lasted several hours.
Obama’s surprise trip
The huddle came within hours of another meeting of the troika – the president, the premier and the army chief – to discuss the ‘regional security situation’.
More importantly, the meeting took place a day after the US and Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership deal that would allow Americans to maintain military presence in the war-torn country beyond 2014, even after the completion of the combat mission.
President Barack Obama flew into Kabul in dead of Tuesday night, on an unscheduled trip, to meet his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai.
One official attempted to play down the development, insisting it was long due, and Islamabad was in the loop.
“It doesn’t come as surprise for us … we were briefed on it by both the US and Afghanistan,” claimed the official, who wished not to be named. He added that Washington had not only invited Islamabad to attend the Nato summit scheduled for May 20 – 21 in Chicago, but also offered to host a trilateral summit of US-Pak-Afghan leaders on the sidelines.
Divergent domestic interests
No decisions were made at Wednesday’s meeting, however, due to divergent approach taken by the stakeholders.
While the military leadership was pushing for an early decision, the civilian authorities were keen to first get out of the brewing crisis emanating from the prime minister’s conviction by the Supreme Court last week, an insider said.
Nonetheless, there was willingness on both sides to move beyond the Salala incident and break months of impasse, another official said.
“It is election year here and in the US … that is what is making things complex,” commented a diplomat.
Last week, a US delegation headed by Obama’s point-man for the region, Marc Grossman, flew back to Washington without any progress after both sides refused to step back from their maximalist positions.
Islamabad wanted Washington to apologise over the Salala attack and give firm guarantees that the drone campaign would be called off. After Wednesday’s meeting, it appears that Pakistan is not ready to soften its position on both issues, and the deadlock might persist for some more time.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2012.