Pakistani official: Position to soften on NATO supply line

An assistant to the Prime Minister says the country will show flexibility on the issue after NATO clearly expressed its displeasure in Chicago.

By , Correspondent

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    Oil tankers, which were used to transport NATO fuel supplies to Afghanistan, are parked at a compound in Karachi, Pakistan, Tuesday, May 15. As President Asif Ali Zardari concludes his trip to Chicago for the NATO summit, observers in Pakistan say that the country has been put in a more awkward position to soften on NATO supply line.
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As President Asif Ali Zardari concludes his trip to Chicago for the NATO summit, observers in Pakistan say that Pakistan has been put in a more awkward position, and he will now have to convince his own countrymen to soften their demands on the United States – a difficult task.

Government officials are already hinting at the change of attitude that Pakistan will pursue once the president returns. 

“We have to show flexibility in our stance, because it is in Pakistan’s mutual interest,” says Chaudry Fawad, who is the special assistant to Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani.  

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Mr. Fawad says it is time for Pakistan to move on, and reciprocate the goodwill gesture of NATO inviting Pakistan to the summit. He says this was a sign that the international community realizes Pakistan’s importance.

“We want to tell the world that we are not a hurdle in Afghanistan’s pull out of NATO forces. And I believe the bigger disputes between both countries have been resolved,” he added.

Despite Fawad’s claims, the fact that Mr. Zardari was unable to secure a formal one-on-one meeting with President Obama at the summit ( there were a couple quick face to face moments) sends a clear message to the country’s leadership about how unhappy the US is with Pakistan.

The Pakistan-US relationship, already reeling from the arrest in January of a C.I.A. officer, Raymond Davis, and the killing of Osama bin Laden in May  took a nosedive when NATO forces attacked Pakistani military check-posts on the Afghan border, last year in November, accidentally killing 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Following this, the country’s policymakers decided to block the NATO supply routes, which passed through Pakistan into Afghanistan and Pakistan’s parliament was tasked to come up with recommendations for renewing the relationship with the Americans.

The parliament put out a 14-point resolution last month. It mainly asked for re-engagement of terms and conditions regarding the NATO supply routes, an apology from the US for the attack in November, and an end to drone strikes. But Pakistan has been unsuccessful in getting these demands met, and political observers feel the failure to secure any deal at the NATO summit is an indicator that Pakistan has lost out on all accounts.

“I think Pakistani leadership misread the situation. Mr. Zardari thought that he, by going himself to the NATO summit, would be able to break the ice, without giving anything substantive in return, but he miscalculated it,” says Fahd Husein, a senior journalist, who hosts a political prime time talk show.

According to Mr. Husein, Pakistan will need to back down from their earlier demands and then Zardari will have to implement this unpopular decision when he comes back.

“We will not get the money that we are looking for, the drones will not stop, and most likely, we will not get an apology from Obama,” he says.

But some analysts say that the attendance of Pakistan at the Chicago summit wasn’t a total loss and should be interpreted in context.

“The military and the political leadership of the country want to get back on track with the US, but the military will not take blame for this unpopular decision, and the political leadership in Pakistan has an election year to face,” says Najam Sethi, a political analyst and editor of a weekly newspaper in Pakistan.

Mr. Sethi feels that Pakistan has delayed the normalization of ties, and it should act fast now, otherwise it may lose the aid it gets from the United States.

“The transition from ‘strategic ally’ to ‘frenemy’ has been swifter than the Pakistani generals had bargained for. The civilians didn't help by distorting the military's calibrated plan because they took far too long to start re-engagement, thereby pushing Washington to take a harder line,” he says. “And now a compromise will have to be made.” 

Still, analysts say with Pakistan in this awkward position, they foresee darker days ahead for the president, as he will have to deal with the political opposition in the country.

“I think it’s a lose-lose situation for Mr. Zardari. He comes back having cut no ice with the Americans or the NATO, and having expended a lot of political capital,” Husein says.

“I think the only thing the ruling regime can do now is to close the deal real quickly, by knowing what the realistic options are, and then go ahead and take them,” he says.

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