Amid fresh signs of plummeting relations between Washington and Islamabad, the United States pulled out negotiators from Pakistan on Monday after talks failed to produce an agreement on reopening vital Nato supply routes into Afghanistan.
However, Commander Bill Speaks, a US Department of Defence spokesperson, told The Express Tribune that the negotiating team had completed technical consultations with Pakistan while citing it as the reason for the negotiators to return home.
“The US is ready to send officials back to Islamabad when the Pakistan government is ready to conclude the agreement, and the chargé d’affaires remains in place to continue working on the process,” Speaks said, adding that the goal for the US was to finalise an agreement as soon as possible.
The team of negotiators had been in Pakistan for about six weeks as US officials had believed they were close to a deal with Islamabad to lift the blockade on Nato convoys.
On the other hand, Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters that the team was returning as no breakthrough was imminent, adding that there was no scheduled date for a resumption of the negotiations.
“The decision was reached to bring the team home for a short period of time,” Little told reporters.
The US, however, would continue to maintain a ‘dialogue’ with Pakistan and the departure of the expert negotiating team did not mean Washington had given up discussions with Islamabad or that the pullout had been imposed on them, he said.
“That’s not to be taken as a sign of our unwillingness to continue the dialogue with Pakistanis on this issue,” he said, adding that the negotiators are “prepared to return at any moment.” Members of the negotiating team started to leave over the weekend, Little said.
‘No breakdown in talks’
Meanwhile, the Foreign Office pointed out that the officials had left Pakistan after completing technical consultations. “I don’t see this as a breakdown in the relationship,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Moazam Ali Khan.
In Washington, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman also played down the hype surrounding the US pullout.
“I don’t really see it as an institutional pullout,” Sherry said. Talking to The Express Tribune, she went on to add that Nato supply routes were not closed to leverage a price advantage, adding that routes had not been closed “in a fit of pique or on impulse”.
Officials familiar with the development said the two sides have almost worked out technical details on the resumption of Nato supply lines but the deal could not be finalised due to political issues, including the US refusal to offer an explicit apology for the Salala raid and halt drone strikes.
“Unless the US offers something that resembles an apology, it is very difficult for Pakistan to reopen Nato supplies,” said an official familiar with the development.
“We want to have a package deal and the issue of apology is still included … there will be no compromise on it,” the official added.
Diplomatic sources told The Express Tribune that Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar is expected to meet a senior US official this week on the sidelines of a regional conference on Afghanistan in Kabul.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 12th, 2012.