CHICAGO: While a key Nato summit gathering more than 50 world leaders opened in Chicago on Sunday with a minute’s silence for all those who have fallen in combat, a massive demonstration calling for an immediate end to the decade-long war in Afghanistan was successfully vying for media attention outside what in Pakistani parlance would be called the city’s red zone.
As the 28 members of the North-Atlantic Council in heads of state and government format went behind closed doors to focus on their concerns about Afghanistan, President Asif Ali Zardari had a one-on-one meeting with President Hamid Karzai.
Presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar told The Express Tribune that the meeting between Karzai and Zardari lasted for 45 minutes, where the two discussed bilateral relations and the regional situation.
“Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed in principle today to extend the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement beyond Afghanistan to countries in Central Asia. The decision, the modalities of which will be worked out, was taken today at the Zardari-Karzai meeting in Chicago on the sidelines of the Nato summit when President Karzai welcomed the Pakistani president’s proposal to this effect,” said the spokesperson.
Babar said that President Zardari also called for long-term regional and economic engagement and stressed that projects such as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, CASA-1000, Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (RoZs) and rail and road connectivity could change the destiny of the region.
The president also drew attention to the recent incidents of detention of Pakistani businessmen and professionals visiting Afghanistan and urged him to probe the matter.
Zardari also underscored the need for dealing with the issue of prisoners and called for the establishment of a joint commission for the purpose.
He said Pakistan would support every effort for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, including the Qatar process as long as they were acceptable to our Afghan brothers.
He said that peace and stability in Afghanistan was a central concern of Pakistan and reiterated that Pakistani territory shall not be used for any kind of attacks on any other country.
President Zardari also met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was accompanied by US envoy Mark Grossman and US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani, Ambassador Sherry Rehman, Senator Farhatullah Babar and Secretary General Salman Farooqi accompanied the president.
According to the presidential spokesperson, President Zardari and Secretary of State Clinton discussed cooperation in the fight against militancy, regional issues and all issues of bilateral concern.
However, there was no mention of whether the on going tussle between the two countries on the resumption of Nato supply routes was discussed.
‘No rush for exits in Afghan war’
Earlier, Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen during his “doorstep” inter-action with the media, said that he hoped that transit routes in Pakistan would open in the very near future.
“We have had dialogue with Pakistan. I am hopeful it will be concluded soon,” he added.
He termed the summit as a powerful demonstration for the people of Afghanistan. “We are in the process of handing over lead responsibility to the Afghans. There is no rush for an exit in Afghanistan; we want to see it through to its success. The number of our troops will gradually reduce,” he remarked. Later at the summit Nato allies pledged $1 billion for Afghan security forces.
In the morning, US President Barack Obama met President Karzai during which the former, seemingly subdued, spoke of his visit to Afghanistan a few weeks ago.
“During that trip to Afghanistan, we were able to finalise the partnership agreement that reflects a future in which two sovereign nations … are operating as partners to the benefit of our countries’ citizens but also for the benefit of peace and security and stability” in the region,” Obama said.
He thanked Karzai and his delegation for their ‘hard work’ on the partnership agreement.
“The Nato summit is going to be largely devoted to ratifying and reflecting the broad consensus that so many of our partners and Isaf members have agreed to,” Obama said, adding that the US was working with its Afghan partners to achieve a complete transition to Afghan rule for Afghan security.
He said Nato will continue to provide support for Afghan security forces during this transition and said Afghan forces have made “excellent progress.”
“We recognise the hardship that the Afghan people have been through,” Obama said.
The Afghan president said the two leaders had a good meeting on Saturday in which Afghanistan reaffirmed its ‘commitment’ to the transition process. The Nato chief in an interview to Chicago Tribune hoped that summit would produce at least two key results: a road map for aiding a post war Afghanistan and the official go-ahead for a missile defence shield for Europe.
He said Nato was in Afghanistan first and foremost to prevent the country from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists.
“We cannot expect Afghanistan to be what some people might call a perfect society compared to the standard of society we are used to. And less can do,” he added.
He said he was well aware of the planned protests and said a Nato official has met with a protester umbrella group. “In a free society, it’s a constitutional right to express yourself,” he said.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Chicago chapter called and told The Express Tribune that about 40 party members joined the protests calling for an immediate end to drone attacks against Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 21st, 2012.