Delicate Hours of Pak-US Ties
These are delicate hours in Pak-US ties as Pakistan’s diplomats are negotiating a complex issue of resumption of NATO supply routes across the country in wake of the heightening political noise inside the country on one hand and badly needed financial support on the other hand.
It is notable that in the recent months, a number of American diplomats including NATO chief visited Islamabad and met Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, asking them for reopening the NATO routes. In this regard, on May 13, ISAF Commander Gen. John Allen and Afghan Gen. Muhammad Karimi attended a Tripartite Commission’s meeting in Rawalpindi. Gen. Kayani reiterated that parliament furnished its recommendations and civil government would decide on the issue of NATO supply.
Since May 11, this year, when Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani disclosed that the issue of NATO supply would be resolved soon and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar indicated that Pakistan needs to end the blockade on NATO supplies to attend a NATO summit in Chicago on May 20-21 by elaborated that Pakistan needs to go ahead and try to improve relations with US in order to avoid isolation by the international community, a debate started among country’s media anchors and commentators over the NATO supply.
Although Prime Minister Gilani had pointed out that relations with NATO were significant as the organisation comprised 48 countries, yet he also clarified that the issue of NATO supply line and ties with the US would be resolved in light of parliamentary recommendations. In this context, the country’ top civilian and military leadership also met, and left it to the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) which met on May 15, but fixed no deadline for the resumption of NATO supply routes. But DCC endorsed President Asif Ali Zardari’s participation in Chicago meeting.
In this backdrop, most of Pakistan’s political analysts and TV anchors made clear-cut speculations that Islamabad will restore the NATO supply through the DCC meeting before the Chicago summit due to growing pressure of the US-led NATO countries on Islamabad. Now, debate still keeps on going among over political circles and media commentators regarding the resumption of NATO supply lines. Some of them presumed that President Zardari would announce decision of resuming these supplies during the NATO summit at Chicago as Pakistan is badly in need of financial aid, while some opined that Islamabad would re-open NATO supply routes, immediately after the summit. But most of them agree that Pakistan will restore these supplies without putting condition on America to stop drone attacks on its soil.
While, conflicting reports are coming about the restoration of NATO supply lines, we need to grasp realistic approach in this connection.
It is mentionable that the prevalent global system tends to give a greater leverage to the most developed countries which could safeguard their interests at the cost of the weak countries. Whenever, any controversy arises, the UN Security Council enforces the doctrine of collective security against the small states, while the five big powers protect their interests by using veto.
In economic context, the world order shows greater disparities as the flow of capital and credit system including I.M.F and World Bank is also dominated by the US-led most developed countries—its result is undue ‘conditionalties’ on the poor developing states-particularly Pakistan. In these terms, US especially blackmails Pakistan through financial pressure. Every time, I.M.F sanctions loan to Islamabad after American green signal. Past experience proves that economic dependence on foreign countries always brings political dependence in its wake. While, at this critical juncture, our country has been facing precarious financial problems, US-led NATO countries are compelling Islamabad to accept American undue demands which are, in fact, part of American shrewd diplomacy as the US, India and Israel are trying to weaken Pakistan for their secret strategic designs. In case of refusal, with the help of some western NATO powers, the US can impose economic sanctions on Pakistan or can declare the latter as defaulter in connection with the payments of debts so as to further destabilise the country.
However, US sources suggest that State Department officials continue talks with Pakistan over the reopening of NATO supply lines, which are showing progress, but “technical issues” remain. In this context, while quoting Pakistan’s officials, the Washington Post reported on May 18, “the framework is ready, but we are now looking at rates”; Pakistani negotiators are reportedly seeking a $5000 transit fee for each NATO shipping container. But America disagrees with this amount for each NATO truck. Before the suspension of NATO convoys, Americans were paying an average of about $250 as per truck.
According to Pakistani sources, dialogue with the US also includes potential disbursement of US$400 million under Coalition Support Fund (CSF) by the end of 2012 and US$1.2 billon after supply routes to NATO are re-opened.
As regards duress on Islamabad, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen had suggested on May 11 that Pakistan could miss out on important talks on the future of Afghanistan, if it failed to reopen supply routes in time to secure a place at a NATO summit in Chicago.
Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives on May 17 linked Pakistan aid to resumption of NATO supplies by nearly unanimously endorsing an amendment which would block payments in CSF, while debating the National Defence Authorisation Act—amendment could block up to $650 million payments to Pakistan. Although White House has revealed that President Obama will veto the said bill, yet it is part of American coercive diplomacy to make Islamabad accept US favourable terms and conditions.
Besides on May 7, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta had stated that the US would continue drone strikes against militant sanctuaries in Pakistan, even if Islamabad keeps opposing them. While, Pak-US relations had already become strained after the US deliberate air attack on Salala check posts on November 26, last year, which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Now negative steps by America amid present negotiations are likely to create hurdles in finalising a deal in reopening the routes to Afghanistan including the settlement of other issues, making the same more complicated.
Internally, Pakistan’s ruling party has been facing strong pressure from the opposition and religious parties in relation to NATO supply. The PML-N said that it would not accept any deal with US, if the government did not make decision in the light of the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS). And Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Imran Khan has opposed resumption of NATO supply routes, and warned that his party would launch “nation-wide protests” against the regime, accusing it of failing to carry out parliament’s mandate for an unconditional apology from the US and a cessation of drone strikes. While, the Defence of Pakistan Council announced to organise a long-march on May 27 against the possible restoration of supply line for NATO forces.
In this context, regarding some speculative media reports about current Pak-US dialogue, Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman has already clarified that matters regarding apology for Salala attack and end to drone attacks would be taken up with the US as decided by the DCC. He further said that the government would abide by the recommendations of parliament in letter and spirit—Pakistan “would continue to remain engaged with the US on all issues and decisions would be taken in the best national interest.”
Despite the pressure of the US-led NATO countries, it is hoped that the civil government will finalise the Pak-US talks in light of the recommendations of the PCNS as approved by the parliament regarding re-engagement with the United States. Otherwise any unilateral decision will be counter-productive at this sensitive hour.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations