Despite intense pressure and Nato’s public call for reopening supply routes through Pakistan in a summit declaration, President Asif Ali Zardari made no promises in Chicago.
In a short speech on Monday to leaders from countries in the Nato-led force in Afghanistan, President Zardari gave no indication that Islamabad would be reopening vital Nato supply routes anytime soon without the preconditions Pakistan’s Parliament had put in place.
He told the gathering of more than 50 nations that “Pakistan believed in partnerships based on trust and respect. Partnerships that will secure the future of our people.”
The president, however, did address the pressing matter of the reopening of Nato supply routes, saying Islamabad had ordered negotiators to conclude a deal with the United States.
Zardari said the cabinet’s Defence Committee “decided to direct the relevant officials to conclude negotiations for resumption of the Ground Lines of Communication” needed to supply foreign troops in Afghanistan.
In his address, Zardari called the botched air raid “a serious setback” that “required that we review our engagement and cooperation.”
The parliament “has spoken in favour of cooperation and a partnership approach,” he said, adding that Pakistan was bound by the advice of parliament and the democratic forces.
“Our parliament has also recommended that foreign fighters and non-state actors seeking to destabilize Afghanistan and the region, if found on our soil, must be expelled. We are devising a comprehensive plan for this purpose. This would require the support of the international community both in terms of resources and capacity building. It will also require measures aimed at the economic well-being of the people of the areas affected by the military action,” he added.
The president said Pakistan’s destiny was inter-linked with Afghanistan while expressing support of all efforts for peace and reconciliation in the war-torn country.
“We firmly believe that only an inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue can lead to sustainable peace in Afghanistan,” he said.
US-Pakistan bilateral talks
Earlier, Pakistan and the US ended their Chicago consultations on the side-lines of the Nato summit, “agreeing to disagree” on almost all their mutually contentious issues but seemingly pushed by their respective national interests to continue talking to seek ways to bridge the trust deficit which refuses to disappear.
Even the quick handshake between President Obama and President Zardari before the start of the consultations among participants of the summit this morning appeared to have failed to break the ice. However, unconfirmed reports claim that the two presidents met for short while after the handshake but details of what transpired between the two were not readily available.
Briefing by secretary general
At the end of the final day of the summit, the Nato Secretary General while briefing the media said that it was in Pakistan’s interest to have a stable Afghanistan and voiced optimism that Pakistan would reopen a vital supply route for foreign troops in Afghanistan despite failing to reach a deal at a summit in Chicago.
“We did not anticipate an agreement on the Pakistan transit routes to be reached at this summit. That was not planned,” Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters.
But he added: “I express some optimism as regards the possibility to see the reopening of transit routes in the very near future.”
The secretary general went on to add that President Asif Ali Zardari was invited “because we wanted to engage with Pakistan. We need to have a positive engagement with Pakistan. I met President Zardari, I was encouraged by his statements.”
The Western alliance agreed to hand control of Afghanistan over to its own security forces by the middle of next year, putting the Western alliance on an ‘irreversible’ path out of an unpopular, decade-long war.
In a declaration at a summit in Chicago, the alliance expressed appreciation to Russia and Central Asian governments for allowing supply convoys through their territory in what seemed to be a cautionary statement directed towards Pakistan and said “Nato continues to work with Pakistan to reopen the ground lines of communication as soon as possible.”
“The countries in the region, particularly Pakistan, have important roles in ensuring enduring peace, stability and security in Afghanistan and in facilitating the completion of the transition process,” the declaration said.
Pressure on Pakistan
The seemingly intense pressure being put on Pakistan was reflected in the Monday edition of The Wall Street Journal, which said that US tensions with Pakistan complicated the opening day of the Nato summit as the US had failed so far to reach a deal with Pakistan to reopen key supply routes into Afghanistan.
“Zardari was invited to attend the two-day summit at the last minute in hopes that would lead to a deal, but the two sides remain at odds over how much the US and its allies should pay Pakistan per container,” it further said.
It seems the bottom line was dollars at the summit for both the Western alliance and Pakistan as the former is seeking substantial contributions from its recession-battered members, amounting a total of $4.1 billion, to finance its withdrawal and support the peace aftermath, while the latter is suffering from one of its worst economic squeezes in history and is looking forward to cashing in on the Afghan withdrawal concerns by proposing that the transit fees per container be raised to as much as $5,000 from the current $250, a demand that Washington and its allies have rejected as excessive.
The refusal of President Obama to have an official one-on-meeting with President Zardari is being used as pressure meant to make the latter “feel uncomfortable,” the WSJ said, quoting an unnamed senior US official.
The Chicago Tribune on Monday said that the two-day summit, the largest in the military alliance’s 63 year history, came as White House officials made clear they were furious at Pakistan’s continued refusal to reopen ground routes used to move fuel and other war supplies into Afghanistan, a six month standoff the White House had hoped to resolve before the summit.
Pakistanis on their part led by President Zardari appeared to be putting up a brave face in the face of intense pressure as they publicly stuck to their stand that both a US apology and cessation of drone strikes were not off the table as far as they were concerned and that they would not settle for anything less than what they are demanding as a transit supply fee.
The unflappable presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar and a media savvy Ambassador Sherry Rehman effortlessly kept their cool while fielding some very searching questions from a group of Pakistani media representatives at their late evening briefing on President Zardari’s engagements.
Their brave faces indicated that either Pakistan had not realised the gravity of the situation or they had come prepared not to sign on the dotted lines, come what may, and therefore were ready face the consequences.
Or perhaps both US and Pakistan are deliberately sending well orchestrated signals for the benefit of their respective parties while having already reached some kind of accord on major issues to be made public at a mutually agreed time. As both the Democrats in the US and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) enter election mode, they may be seeking to extract the maximum political advantage– or minimum political damage – from this deal.
Babar said the two sides while agreeing to disagree on their contentious issues sought to continue talks to bridge the trust deficit, which he thought was a positive aspect of the meeting between Zardari and Clinton.
“We searched for convergences and tried to reduce the points of divergences. We dispelled the misperception regarding the alleged links with Pakistani militants … The Secretary of state was informed that the US has not paid a single penny under CSF head since July 2010. President Zardari reiterated that Pakistan needed trade rather than aid, stoppage of drone attacks, and would like speedy implementation of reconstruction opportunity zones.”
US president’s speech
Meanwhile, in his opening remarks on the final day of the summit the US President welcomed Nato allies and partners that make up the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan and particularly mentioned the presence of Afghan President Karzai, as well as officials from central Asia and Russia: “nations that have an important perspective and that continue to provide critical transit for Isaf supplies.” He did not name Pakistan even once in his speech.
US President Barack Obama and his 27 military allies also ordered military officers to begin planning a post-2014 mission to focus on training, advising and assisting Afghan troops and special forces.
“As Afghans stand up, they will not stand alone,” Obama said.
Meanwhile, in a sign of growing impatience within the alliance, new French President Francois Hollande refused to back down from his decision to pull troops out in 2012, a year earlier than planned.
(Read: Chicago hiccups)
Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2012.