Obstacles in Pak-US Agreement

 By Sajjad Shaukat

In the last few weeks, conflicting are coming about the success of Pak-US negotiations in order to reach an agreement in connection with the reengagement of Pakistan with America as last year, Pakistan closed ground supply routes through its territory to Afghanistan to protest a cross-border NATO air attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

On June 12, this year, Pentagon Spokesman George Little said that the United States is withdrawing its team of negotiators from Pakistan without securing a long-sought deal with Islamabad to allow trucks to again supply NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan. But at the same time, he clarified that a deal with Pakistan remained a priority, remarking that the team of negotiators could return at any moment. Next day, the Pentagon dismissed the impression that negotiations with Islamabad had been cut off, disclosing that the US continued discussions with Pakistan towards re-opening the supply routes.

On the other side, Pakistan’s Foreign Office Spokesman Moazzam Khan pointed out on June 14 that both sides are trying to resolve the issues and bring the relationship back on track. But he also admitted, “The issues the two countries were trying to deal with were difficult ones.”

Although Islamabad and Washington claim that both the countries seek to move their talks in positive direction, yet controversy continues between the two as American duplicity and pressure tactics are creating obstacles in reaching an agreement.

One of the major obstacles is that America is pressurising Islamabad for earlier restoration of NATO route unilaterally by setting aside other issues, while Pakistan wants to discuss all the inter-related subjects namely drone attacks, rate of charges of NATO trucks, border’s coordination mechanism, apology by US over Salala incident etc. So, it is owing to US illogical approach that the negotiating teams of both the countries did not agree to each other’s demands.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar reiterated that seeking apology from the US on Salala incident is essential for reopening the NATO supplies. But top US officials time and again said that “apology is not possible.” The negotiating team from the US fails to fulfil Pakistani demand.

Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta allegedly said on June 7 that the United States was reaching the limits of its patience with Pakistan. He explained, “It is difficult to achieve peace in Afghanistan as long as there are safe havens for terrorists in Pakistan.” At a critical moment in negotiations with Pakistan, Panetta’s tough comments created complication to narrow the differences between both the countries.

Another major impediment between the two countries is drone attacks. The US side was not accepting Pakistani stance that these predator’s strikes were counterproductive by provocating the tribal people, thus causing more recruitment of insurgents, resulting into more suicide attacks inside the country. These strikes also incite the insurgents of FATA against Pakistan’s the security forces. Besides, Pakistan considers the action against its sovereignty.

At this delicate hour, when Pakistan’s diplomats were negotiating a complex issue of resumption of NATO supply routes in wake of the heightening political noise inside the country, in the last 16 days, CIA-operated drone attacks killed more than 50 people in North Waziristan besides South Waziristan. Notably, during his visit to India, on June 6, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has repeatedly pointed out that drone attacks would continue on Pakistan’s soil. Earlier President Obama has also defended these strikes as part of American so-called counterinsurgency strategy.
On May 21, US President Barack Obama also met Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari on the sidelines of NATO summit amid widespread reports that the US deliberately pressurised Pakistani president to meet US-NATO demands for reopening the supply route. But President Zardari told Obama that strikes by the US spy planes must be stopped, while pointing out Pakistan’s demand for US apology over the November 26, 2011 unprovoked Salala check post incident.
We cannot see American predator’s strikes in isolation, because these are not only part of the US other pressure tactics on Islamabad to obtain favourable terms and conditions regarding new relationship with Pakistan, but are also scheme of anti-Pakistan campaign. Firstly, as part of US shrewd diplomacy, America wants to fail the ongoing negotiations with Pakistan, and intends to show other NATO countries that Islamabad is not willing to open the NATO supply lines, thus it created obstacle in the way of completing the exit schedule of foreign troops from Afghanistan in 2014. Secondly, US can convince other NATO states to conduct full-fledged air strikes on Pak tribal areas or Haqqani network, based in North Waziristan as American top military officials have continuously been blaming Pakistan in this regard in order to conceal their misadventure in Afghanistan.

Besides, US high officials have been employing coercive diplomacy on Islamabad in relation to Dr. Shakeel Afridi who has been sentenced 33 years imprisonment by the order of a tribal court due to his close association with the banned terrorist group Lashkar-e-Islam led by Mangal Bagh. The evidence produced by the Joint Investigation Team before the court proved Dr. Afridi’s clandestine collaboration with the CIA in connection with the May 2 US raid in Abbottabad which violated Pakistan’s sovereignty.

Moreover, to further blackmail Islamabad for Dr. Shakeel Afridi’s release, US Senate cuts $33m aid to Pakistan. On May 29, a US Conservative Senator Rand Paul suggested to suspend all Pak aid until Dr. Afridi was set free.

It is mentionable that on June 8, a US Senate panel voted cuts in aid to Pakistan and threatened to withhold even more cash, if Islamabad does not reopen its supply routes for NATO soldiers in Afghanistan.

By bypassing Pakistan, recently, US-led NATO signed agreements with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, allowing the military to evacuate hardware from Afghanistan. Notably, the reliance on a longer Central Asian route to transport supplies is costing Washington $100 million a month as pointed out by US Defence Secretary Leon E. Panetta.

While concealing real hindrances in Pak-US accord, American high officials have been propagating that during negotiations with the US for reopening NATO supply routes, Pakistani government had been demanding $5,000 per truck. And the US refused the demand. Since then, negotiations have been underway; the government has now proposed a fee of between $1,800 and $2,000.
In this respect, on June 13, dispelling the impression that Pakistan had set extraordinary high tariffs as pre-requisite for reopening NATO supply routes to Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar clarified that talks with the United States on reopening the supply routes were not hostage to any Pakistani demand for high tariffs on the supplies.

Quite contrary to his earlier statements, on June 13, Panetta stated that the US should examine setting conditions for aid to Pakistan, but not cutting it off, as he disclosed that Islamabad’s closure of supply lines to the Afghan war costs American taxpayers millions of dollars a month.

Sources suggest that stalemate still exists between Pakistan and US to conclude agreement because by rejecting US duress for earlier restoration of NATO transport routes, Pakistan’s civil and military leaders remain firm on their stand that the issue of NATO supply lines would be decided in light of recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security and the Defence Committee of the Cabinet after negotiating reengagement with the US as approved by the parliament.

Nonetheless, Pakistan seeks to discuss all the related issues instead of resumption of NATO supply unilaterally. So it is due to American power-diplomacy, blame game, drone attacks etc. which are creating real obstacles in reaching an agreement between Pakistan and the US.

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

Email: sajjad_logic@yahoo.com

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