Pak to decide on ties with US post Senate polls

A parliamentary review of Pakistan-US ties is expected to throw up new terms of engagement for the US and NATO.

Islamabad: A joint session of Pakistan`s Parliament to decide the future course of relations with the US will be held after the Senate elections scheduled for March 02, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said on Saturday.

The Parliament will make a final decision on future foreign policy but Pakistan, as a responsible country, wants "good and friendly relations" with all countries on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect, Gilani said during an interaction with a group of journalists this evening.

Following a cross-border NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November last year, Gilani ordered a parliamentary review of Pakistan-US ties. The review is expected to throw up new terms of engagement for the US and NATO.

Gilani said his government had decided to hold the joint session of Parliament after elections to the Senate or upper house of Parliament so that the new Senators could be involved in making a decision on this important subject.

The joint session would also decide on the issue of reopening NATO supply routes that were closed after last year`s air strike, he said.

Asked about the popularity of leaders of the Defa-e-Pakistan Council who are criticising the government`s recent decision to allow NATO to transport food supplies through Pakistani airspace and land routes, Gilani said these leaders were not popular among the people.

A final decision on restoring all NATO supplies will be taken in the national interest and not on the demand or under pressure from any group, he said.

Similarly, the decision to stop NATO supplies was made in the national interest and leaders of the Defa-e-Pakistan Council were not consulted on the issue, he said.

The Defa-e-Pakistan Council is a grouping of extremist and hardline groups that was cobbled together by Lashkar-e-Toiba founder Hafiz Mohammad Saeed after the NATO air strike last year.

Its leaders have targeted the US and India in recent rallies and meetings.

Asked about his appeal to leaders of the Taliban and other Afghan rebel groups to join the peace process in Afghanistan, the Premier said the request was meant for all Taliban leaders and was aimed at any specific group.

He said he had issued the appeal so that they could join hands for an "Afghan-led and Afghan-owned" reconciliation process for stability and security in the region. Gilani issued the appeal on Friday at the request of
Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Replying to a question on the unrest in Balochistan province, Gilani said a committee has been formed to contact the political leadership of the country to convene an all parties’ conference on the issue.

Gilani said he would meet the Governor and Chief Minister of Balochistan soon to consult them on engaging all stakeholders in parleys aimed at improving the situation in the province.

Referring to a resolution moved in the US House of Representatives seeking the right to self-determination for the Baloch people, Gilani said the US administration had clarified it had nothing to do with the bill.

Replying to another question about his strategy for the final year of his five-year term before the country goes to the polls, Gilani said he had asked the Finance Ministry to prepare a "people`s welfare budget".

He said the ministry had also been asked to create 100,000 jobs this year.

It had been decided that there will be no additional burden on the people in the next budget and efforts will be made to give them more incentives, Gilani said.

Referring to the shortage of electricity and gas, he said Pakistan is taking several steps to acquire more gas, including from Iran and Qatar.

Asked about the government’s move to give India Most Favoured Nation-status, Gilani explained that this was a step aimed at ensuring that there is no discrimination in bilateral trade. He said authorities were discussing steps to ensure balance of trade before giving MFN-status to India.