Political and military leaders discuss US ties
ISLAMABAD: The top political and military leadership once again put their heads together on Wednesday to search for the way ahead in stalled negotiations with the US for resetting relations, but made little progress beyond concurring that the ties were too critical to be left in limbo.
“We discussed various formulations for the demands to be made from the US, including the text of a possible apology statement that would not only be acceptable to us, but would also help the Americans overcome their reluctance in apologising,” one of the participants of the meeting told Dawn.
The meeting was the third of the newly-formed informal group of decision-makers over the past seven days.
The forum, which includes President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Finance Minister Hafeez Sheikh, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani, Finance Secretary Wajid Rana, Ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman, Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani and ISI head Lt-Gen Zaheerul Islam, enables civilian and military leaders to coordinate their positions on issues vis-à-vis ties with the US. It is in addition to the much broader Defence Committee of the Cabinet that was previously handling the crisis in the relationship in the aftermath of the 26/11 Salala border post attack by American aircraft in which 24 Pakistani troops lost their lives.
The first round of formal parleys between the US and Pakistan last week failed because of the US insistence on not discussing cessation of drone attacks and refusing to apologise for the Salala attack.
A source said that following the impasse over apology, the Pakistani side started working on a text of a statement that could be acceptable to both Pakistan and the US. The idea is that after developing consensus at home, the text of the proposed apology statement would be suggested to the Americans asking them to announce it so that the two sides could move on with the negotiations on other issues.
The under-consideration text, though mild in language than a direct apology, includes an implied acceptance by the US of responsibility for the deadly strikes. It has been endorsed by the civilian leaders, while the army is said to be studying it.
Explaining Pakistan’s position on the issue of apology, the source said Americans were morally bound to apologise for killing 24 young soldiers of an ally which, according to their own assessment, had done more in the war on terror than any other partner. “It (the apology) is important to keep the morale of our troops fighting terrorism and extremism high.”
Other than apology, the presidency meeting spent significant time discussing the new terms for the re-opening of Nato supply routes including imposition of new taxes, which is being termed “the opportunity cost”.
A US team which arrived in Islamabad along with US Special Envoy Marc Grossman last week for talks on resumption of Nato supplies through ground routes has stayed back for finalising the new terms.
Although the US team has had a few sessions with the finance ministry, a final deal would be reached only after the green signal from the civil-military combine. Apparently it looks that the go-ahead would come only after progress on the apology
The presidency meeting also took stock of the just signed US-Afghanistan strategic partnership agreement, fresh terror attacks in Afghanistan and Taliban’s ‘spring offensive’ beginning from Thursday.
The leaders have been particularly concerned about the situation in Afghanistan because of its implications for normalisation of relations with the US.