ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has decided to boycott the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan scheduled to start next Monday as a mark of protest on the firing by Nato helicopters on an Army checkpoint near the Afghan border and the killing of 26 soldiers. The decision has been taken in the wake of the Cabinet Committee on Defence (DCC) that held emergency meeting on Saturday evening chaired by Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani.
Foreign ministers belonging to more than 90 countries are expected to attend the Bonn Conference that is believed to take up sensitive and thorny issues regarding the withdrawal of occupying forces for the war torn country and entering into dialogue with the Taliban. US Secretary of State Ms. Hillary Clinton is also turning up at the Bonn Conference where she had planned to meet her counterpart from Pakistan Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is also expected to travel to Bonn for the conference. Pakistan’s absence from the conference would be a major setback to the US-led efforts for bringing the Taliban to the dialogue table.
Turkey hosted the Istanbul Conference on Afghanistan last month with the active support of the United States but it could not yield the results desired by the US and its Nato allies. They had pinned high hopes with the Bonn Conference.
Well-placed sources told The News late on Saturday evening that at the DCC meeting, Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was composed but firm about his approach while Prime Minister Gilani who is known for his cool, was in utter anxiety and hardly could control his emotions over the gory incident that deprived the motherland of precious soldiers in a provocative action without any plausible reason.
Finance Minister Senator Hafeez Shaikh reportedly opposed the idea of taking harsh action in retaliation as he warned the participants to make a fair assessment of the consequences of the action being taken by Islamabad. Foreign Minister Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar was among the participants who were visibly upset about the episode, the sources pointed out.
The sources said that Prime Minister Gilani referred to the resolution of the joint sitting of parliament pertaining to the security of the country and suggested that the government would take up the matter in parliament.
Leader of the Opposition Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) Nawaz Sharif has also demanded discussing the matter in the National Assembly. He is among the leaders who had been castigating the role and performance of parliament.
The prime minister will take decision in a day or two to summon joint sitting of the Parliament on the question after consulting the leaders of other parties.
The sources revealed that Interior Minister Rehman Malik did not take part in the discussions actively but he supported the steps decided by the committee. It has also been decided to strengthen the air defences on the borders with Afghanistan. The air surveillance is being enhanced so that the response of any further incursion should be effective, the sources said. Interestingly Pakistan deployed air force on the Afghan borders during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had air combat with the intruding plans and on one occasion a Soviet fighter plane was also shot down during those years. The PAF had day and night surveillance of the air in the bordering areas with Afghanistan.
In the meanwhile observers are of the view that the attack is likely to further strain relations between Islamabad and US-led forces fighting in Afghanistan. The incident late Friday night came a little over a year after US helicopters killed two Pakistani soldiers near the border. Pakistan responded by closing a key border crossing on a Nato supply route to Afghanistan for 10 days until the US apologised. Finance Minister Senator Hafeez Shaikh was not available for confirmation or otherwise of his reported observations given in the DCC, till late evening.