Pak Cabinet panel to hold key meeting on US ties



Islamabad: Pakistan's highest decision-making body on security issues will hold a crucial meeting today that is expected to ratify new terms of engagement with the US and the reopening of NATO supply routes to Afghanistan.

The meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet will be chaired this evening by new Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf for the first time.

It will be attended by key ministers, including Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, other service chiefs and ISI chief Lt Gen Zahir-ul-Islam, officials said.

Official sources said the committee is expected to decide on ending a six-month blockade of NATO supply lines, which was imposed after a cross-border NATO air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November last year.

A deal on reopening the supply routes has been held up by Islamabad's insistence on an apology from Washington for the air strike.

The two sides have also been negotiating the fees to be paid for NATO containers and tankers transiting through Pakistani territory.

However, the sources said the two sides are expected to issue a joint statement on the NATO attack and the need for greater cooperation to avert such incidents as the US is unlikely to offer an outright apology when the Obama administration is gearing up for the next general election.

The joint statement is expected to be issued after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls Foreign Minister Khar in the near future, the sources said.

The statement, meant to satisfy the Pakistani demand for an apology, has been "carefully worded in a manner that satisfies the concern of both sides," the Dawn newspaper reported today.

Details of the arrangement for reopening the NATO supply lines were reportedly stitched together by Gen Kayani and Gen John Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, who has visited Islamabad twice in less than a week.

Yesterday, a US delegation led by Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides and including Allen held talks on the NATO supply lines and the situation in Afghanistan with a Pakistani team led by Foreign Minister Khar.

PTI