Hours after it was revealed that the long-awaited parliamentary review of Pakistan-US ties would begin from March 17, a high-level huddle of all the principal players on the matter gathered at the Presidency.
The guest list for the meeting, which continued beyond midnight, was telling: President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman.
Ambassador Rehman was summoned back by the president a few days ago to give a briefing on the current status of ties with Washington.
Very little was officially shared with media in a two-paragraph handout issued after the meeting – which said the meeting was held to “take stock of the Pak-US relations.” A couple of sources who spoke to The Express Tribune said the focus was on what would suit Islamabad in the rapidly unfolding situation in Afghanistan.
Insiders said the central point of deliberations was whether Islamabad should lift the blockade on non-lethal supplies to international forces in Afghanistan via Pakistan.
Officials said there wasn’t any decision, but the participants agreed that these restrictions should continue for a longer period – or at least until the US tendered a public apology for the death of Pakistani 24 troops in a cross-border attack last year at the Salala check post.
Reports last week had it that the US military was about to issue an apology to the Pakistani military, but was stopped after the incident which saw the burning of Holy Qurans at an American base in Afghanistan. After a violent backlash, US leaders were forced to apologise for the incident. Two apologies, it was said, were not possible so close to one another – that too in a US election year.
Insiders said Pakistani leadership would resume NATO supplies through its land routes once the public apology comes from Washington because it would be ‘enough to cool down the families of dead soldiers as well as to ward off resentment against the US in the lower ranks of the military’.
According to one official, the meeting also discussed what Pakistan’s response should be in case of any actions against Iran.
Earlier, it was revealed that Parliament will hold a joint session this month to review the country’s war on terror cooperation with the US.
The joint session of the National Assembly (NA) and the Senate on March 17 is expected to approve fresh terms of engagement with the US, framed by the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS).
The move to review ties came in the wake of an attack by Nato helicopter gunships on two border posts of the Pakistan military in the remote tribal region of Mohmand Agency on November 27, killing two dozen security personnel, including officers.
The joint session has already been postponed twice – first in January and then in February, – apparently to give backchannel diplomacy a chance to settle issues haunting relations.
The key question before Parliament would be whether Islamabad should lift a blockade on non-lethal supplies for NATO troops stationed in Afghanistan.
Officials have said in the past that the PCNS had not explicitly recommended anything to the government regarding the resuming of Nato supplies, and that the government intended to give a go ahead for reopening routes after placing levies on transportation.
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar are expected to brief the public representatives about current state of affairs with the US and Nato. There is a strong possibility that the government would announce to restore NATO supply line with strict conditions.