No Pak-US thaw, but optimism remains
Reports suggest that Pakistan and the US will be pushing for a much-talked about agreement end of this week on the reopening of vital supply routes for US-led foreign forces fighting a Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Currently talks are deadlocked over taxes and additional transit fee Islamabad is demanding for each truckload of Nato supplies crossing its border into Afghanistan. Washington, however, thinks Pakistan’s demand is not pragmatic and that it will not be ‘price-gouged’. But according to a report published in leading English daily the US has agreed to reimburse $1.18 billion or almost 75% of the claims Pakistan has submitted for the expenses incurred in the fight against militants along the Afghan border.
The approval shows that despite increased tensions, the US financial assistance to Pakistan has continued although it is becoming increasingly difficult to get congressional support for helping Pakistan. Last week, Pakistan’s ambassador Sherry Rehman and her team succeeded in persuading Congressman David Dreier, Chairman of the House Rules Committee, to drop an amendment that would have made it difficult to continue to provide financial assistance to Pakistan. This all was in the backdrop of a stand-off between Pakistan and the US that persisted over the reopening of the Nato supply route, and it was expected that the summit would end with a much desired breakthrough to ultimately guarantee the hope afresh for peace in the region, but not only it failed to have even mentioned the sacrifices Pakistan and its armed forces had rendered over the years in the global war against terrorism, it also did not seemingly succeed in paving the way for a diplomatic thaw in the near future.
Yet there was some ground for optimism expressed, to continue working “with Pakistan to reopen the ground lines of communication as soon as possible” as Pakistan had an important role “in ensuring peace, stability and security in Afghanistan and in facilitating the completion of the transition process”. The keyword that adequately sums up the main purpose of the Chicago summit was a ‘responsible end’ to the 10-year Nato invasion of Afghanistan that has brought the invaders nothing but abysmal failures in achieving any of its announced objectives. The Taliban remain undefeated, democracy remains a pipedream, and political future of the country is murky. Probably, as many commented, the calculated objective of this summit was not to announce a roadmap for Pakistan and Afghanistan, but to find out a way out for the Nato troops’ withdrawal.
As the reports are, Chinese foreign minister has privately advised Islamabad to avoid taking ‘extreme positions’ in its relationship with the US, the analysts believe that the solution lies in an inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue that can lead to a sustainable peace in Afghanistan. Thirdly the summit ended with Pakistan extracting an apology or agreement over new transit rates. It is noteworthy that the Taliban too had been closely observing these developments; because they have time and again shown the occupying forces what they are capable of that the leaders at the summit seemed so concerned.
Newspaper editorials noted that any future settlement would also have to take into consideration the Taliban’s growing control of the country. Their inclusion in the political process would greatly help establish peace once the combat troops withdraw. In words of a former ambassador the summit’s failure to map out a path for a ‘negotiated peace’ together with the lack of serious effort to mend ties with Pakistan strengthens the impression that the US is more interested in an exit plan than a strategy to secure a peace settlement. Even so the withdrawal of Nato troops and military equipment over the next two years will be a massive logistical operation that will require Islamabad’s cooperation. It is also in Pakistan’s interest to help in the withdrawal of all foreign forces from its neighbourhood. This should urge both countries to resolve their differences on a mutually acceptable basis which respects Pakistan’s sovereign red lines.
F Z Khan, Islamabad