Signs Of Thaw In Icy US-Pakistan Relations

By Alex Rossi

Pakistan’s political and military elite are meeting to discuss reopening Nato supply routes into Afghanistan, in a move which could repair damaged relations with the United States and ease the exit strategy from the country.

The defence committee – which includes senior civilian and military figures including the prime minister, army chief of staff and intelligence chief – is expected to make recommendations on the matter ahead of a planned full cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

The route blockade was ordered after US-led Nato forces – Apache helicopters and fighter jets – attacked two Pakistani military checkpoints on November 26, killing 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Washington has refused to apologise for the strikes, although it has expressed “regret”.

The incident caused outrage in Pakistan and saw relations between Washington and Islamabad reach a new low, with the government closing Nato supply lines across Pakistani territory in retaliation.
Diplomatic channels between the two countries were already icy after US forces killed Osama bin Laden in a raid on his house in Abbottabad in May 2011.

The killing was seen as a gross violation of Pakistani sovereignty and was also extremely embarrassing for the country’s powerful military, but there are now signs of a rapprochement.
Pakistan foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar indicated in a news conference on Monday that it was time to “move on”.

The signal is significant as it comes just before the Nato summit in Chicago on May 20 and 21.

However, if the supply lines are reopened it is likely to have domestic political consequences in Pakistan as it is expected to spark fury amongst large swathes of the public.
Anti-US sentiment is growing across the country, with widespread anger over the continuing drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas. However, many analysts say Islamabad has no choice but to reopen the supply routes as it relies heavily on US financial aid to keep afloat.

The routes though are of enormous importance to the withdrawal from Afghanistan as the blockade has held up convoys of fuel and supply trucks all the way from the Afghan border to the Pakistani port city of Karachi.

There are also huge amounts of equipment in the country after more than a decade of war and much of that military hardware will need to be removed when the scheduled drawdown starts in 2014.

Foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar said the government was correct to close the border to send a strong message to Washington that the attack on its troops in November was unacceptable.

“It was important to make a point,” Ms Khar said at the news conference in Islamabad.

And when asked whether she thought Pakistan should reopen the supply route she said: “Pakistan has made a point, and now we can move on.”

The US has welcomed the comments but maintains that no final deal has yet been reached.

Sky News


0 replies