ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Tuesday decided to reopen the Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC) for Nato troops fighting in Afghanistan after the United States said sorry over the brutal attack on the Salala check post last November in which 25 Pakistani soldiers, including two officers, were killed.
The decision was taken at a meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) that met under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf at the Prime Minister House.
The DCC also decided that no lethal cargo will go into Afghanistan except equipment for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), essential for ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan.
The DCC confirmed that Pakistan will not charge any transit fee as the issue was not of financial gains but the principle of sovereignty. The DCC reaffirmed that it will continue to be guided by the recommendations of parliament in the future as well.
The restoration will be conditional as the US/Nato will have to fulfill the conditions agreed upon by the two sides.
In a sharp response immediately after the Salala attack, Islamabad immediately suspended GLOCs, got the Shamsi airbase vacated by the United States and boycotted the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan. US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, who earlier headed the US spy agency the CIA, resorted to a threatening posture but Pakistan didn’t budge. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton while visiting India used harsh language towards Pakistan but Pakistan’s parliament dictated to its government the principles to be followed for the future course of ties with the United States. This led to a decision by Pakistan to ask for fresh terms of engagement based on an equal footing and in accordance with the rules of bilateral relations.
Highly placed diplomatic sources told The News that the word ‘sorry’ was picked up by the officials of the two countries who were working on the document. The soft announcement for the restoration of Nato supplies is also part of the agreed arrangement.
Pakistan appointed its Finance Minister Senator Dr Hafeez Shaikh while the United States designated its Under Secretary of State Thomas Nydes to carry the talks forward. The White House played a direct role in affairs after the Pentagon’s hard-line stance some ten weeks ago. Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman and US Deputy National Security Adviser for Pakistan and Afghanistan Doug Lute were also engaged and the agreed draft was the outcome of the Sherry-Lute efforts. Sherry Rehman who had to attend the DCC meeting on a special invitation on Tuesday could not reach in time as she was stuck in Istanbul. She has had four rounds of visits to Pakistan in about three months to see the deal through.
Pakistan and United States will now resume talks stalled at various levels for the last seven months. Interestingly, the restoration of GLOCs came within ten days of the election of the new Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and it is understood that former prime minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani had been following a tougher line in dealing with the US and the resumption of supply routes. The government has been giving the impression that the resumption will help in the evacuation of the US/Nato troops from Afghanistan.
The details of the understanding will be placed before parliament when it meets later this month. The federal cabinet will endorse the decision of the DCC pertaining to the permission to reopen supply routes by the government. The cabinet will meet here today (Wednesday).
Meanwhile, it has been decided that the understanding the two sides have reached would not be termed an ‘agreement.’ Pakistan will get $1.18 billion during the next seven months out of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) and another $2 billion would also be sorted out in the meantime under different heads. The amount so received would greatly help Pakistan’s balance of payments for the current year’s fiscal budget that has been concluded in a very difficult situation, sources maintained.
The sources revealed that Prime Minister Pervaiz Ashraf has been invited by the United States to visit Washington at the earliest but it is expected that Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar will undertake the trip to the United States within three weeks. The US authorities have assured complete understanding on the sovereignty issues, and drones will now be used under the guidance of the principal of shared intelligence. This will reduce the use of drones and at the same time help reducing collateral damage.
Defence cooperation between Pakistan and United States will also be resumed in due course and in all possibility, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) General Khalid Shamim Wayne will be visiting the United States shortly. His scheduled visit was put off immediately after the Salala incident. His visit will mark the resumption of relations between the GHQ and the Pentagon, sources said.
“Pakistani air space was never closed to Nato supplies but the silver-lining of the fresh understanding is about an assurance from the Pentagon that Salala like incident will not reoccur and the US will cease the use of its do-more mantra,” a sources said.
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar briefed the DCC on recent discussions with senior US officials on the resetting of the Pakistan-US relationship in line with the parliamentary recommendations. The DCC stressed that it was in Pakistan’s interest to support the transition and the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan as Nato/Isaf forces draw down by 2014.
The DCC reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to the elimination of terrorism for the sake of a secure future for Pakistan. It further reiterated Pakistan’s stance on drones and agreed to continue to engage the US on counter-terrorism cooperation and counter-terrorism tools that are in line with international law and practice.
Meanwhile, security across the country has been beefed up in the wake of the Nato supplies resumption. Fears have been expressed that opponents of the resumption could come out on the streets to demonstrate their anger.
The Defence Council of Pakistan (DCP) consisting of religio-political leaders has already warned the government of its stern reaction against the decision.
APP adds: Briefing media persons after the meeting of the DCC, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira said the DCC decided to open the supply routes after Hillary Clinton expressed an apology over the Salala incident. The minister said Pakistan has welcomed Clinton’s apology. “Today the US showed softness in its stance and accepted our principled stance over the issue. We appreciate this decision which is not anyone’s victory or defeat,” Kaira said.
He said Pakistan decided to cooperate with Nato with a view to maintain peace and stability in Afghanistan, adding that Pakistan has made it clear that it will not allow the US to transport lethal weapons to Afghanistan. He reiterated that drone attacks should be stopped as these are a violation of the sovereignty of Pakistan and international laws.
The minister said that talks about the stoppage of drone attacks are ongoing with the US and the US has assured Pakistan that there will be no repeat of Salala-like incidents in future.
To a question, he said, “Pakistan does not want a clash with a superpower like the US and more than 50 countries of Nato, with whom we have good relations.”To another question, Kaira said the CSF was not assistance to Pakistan but the amount which the country had already spent in the fight against terrorism.