Crucial meetings in Pak; NATO routes on agenda

Pakistan`s civilian and military leaders will hold two crucial meetings next week to discuss reopening of supply routes for foreign forces.

Updated: May 11, 2012, 19:30 PM IST

Islamabad: Pakistan`s civilian and military leaders will hold two crucial meetings next week to discuss the reopening of supply routes for foreign forces in Afghanistan and participation in a NATO summit being held in the US from May 20.

The government has convened back-to-back meetings of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC), the highest decision-making body on security issues, and the federal cabinet on May 15 and 16 respectively, official sources said.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, currently on an official visit to Britain, cleared the decision on the meetings from London, the sources said.

Meetings of the DCC are usually attended by the three service chiefs and the two upcoming meetings are expected to focus on ending the nearly six-month-old blockade of NATO supplies to Afghanistan and President Asif Ali Zardari`s participation in the NATO Summit in Chicago during May 20-21, the sources said.

Pakistan closed the supply routes to Afghanistan and forced the US to vacate Shamsi airbase, considered a hub for CIA-operated drones, after a cross-border NATO air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.

Prime Minister Gilani ordered a parliamentary review of relations with the US. A joint session of Parliament recently adopted guidelines for resetting ties with the US, including a demand for an unconditional apology for the NATO attack.

The refusal of the US to apologise has held up efforts to put bilateral relations on an even keel.

Pakistan`s powerful security establishment is also upset at US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton`s statements during her recent visit to India that questioned Islamabad`s sincerity in the war against terrorism.

However, the official sources told a news agency that President Zardari is not averse to participating in the NATO Summit in Chicago if the two countries are able to agree on some sort a "face-saving" arrangement.

The Express Tribune newspaper quoted unnamed Pakistani and American diplomats and officials as saying that the two sides were on the "verge of a breakthrough in negotiations".

The diplomats and officials said "major ground" had been covered on key issues, including reopening NATO supply routes.

"Talks are still going on but I can say we are very close to a deal," an unnamed American diplomat involved in the negotiations told the daily.

The diplomat said a breakthrough was expected before the NATO Summit while a Pakistani official said groundwork to end the six-month blockade had "almost been finalised".

The two sides are also reportedly preparing a draft for the apology which Pakistan has demanded from the US.

Ahead of the meetings of the DCC and federal cabinet next week, senior military officials of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the International Security Assistance Force too will meet in Rawalpindi.

The Pakistani military has described the meet as a continuation of regular gatherings held under the Tripartite Commission framework.

The talks between the military officials will focus on enhancing efficiency of coordination measures along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and improving "multilateral mechanisms at the operational and tactical levels".

The ISAF delegation will be led by Gen John Allen while Gen Sher Muhammad Karimi, Chief of General Staff of the Afghan National Army, will head the Afghan team.