Pak banks on Kerry`s visit to end impasse in ties

Pak is hoping that a possible visit by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Kerry will help bring bilateral relations back on an even keel.

Islamabad: Pakistan is banking on a visit by top American Senator John Kerry to help end an impasse in ties with the US that was created by Islamabad`s insistence on an apology for a cross-border NATO air strike last year.

Talks between US Special Envoy Marc Grossman and the Pakistani leadership last month broke down on the issue of an apology from the American administration for the air strike, which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November and took bilateral ties to a fresh low.

The US drone campaign in Pakistan`s tribal belt has emerged as a key irritant in relations, with Washington signalling that it will not halt the missile strikes despite stiff opposition from Islamabad.

The latest drone strike on Saturday killed 10 suspected militants in North Waziristan.

Pakistan`s Foreign Office is now hoping that a possible visit by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Kerry will help bring bilateral relations back on an even keel, diplomatic sources told a news agency.

Last year, Kerry had played a key role in negotiations that helped resolve a crisis caused by the killing of two Pakistani men in Lahore by CIA contractor Raymond Davis.

Kerry or a senior member of the US administration may soon travel to Islamabad for talks on reviving bilateral ties, the Dawn newspaper reported on Saturday.

Kerry was scheduled to visit Pakistan earlier this month but delayed his trip when an official delegation led by Grossman visited Islamabad.

The Dawn quoted its sources in Washington as saying that there was a "strong possibility" the US administration might send a senior official instead of Kerry.

The sources noted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in the region but said it was not clear if the administration would send such a senior person.

"If Secretary Clinton goes, it would mean that the two sides have made a breakthrough and are ready to finalise a deal," one source said.

Pakistan`s Ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman, who was to return to Washington on Sunday, has extended her stay in Islamabad because of the expected visit.

The Pakistan government "admits and realises that it has tied itself up in knots regarding making future bilateral ties with the US conditional and will soon take a step forward to reach out to Washington to ask it take the lead in ensuring that some midway solution comes up, thus ensuring that there is face-saving for both sides," The News daily reported.

The Pakistani leadership had "once again acted in a shortsighted manner and did not leave any room to maneuver," the report said.

The blame for Pakistan`s predicament is being "shared equally by the civil and military leadership as they together try to struggle out of this political quicksand," it added.

"We need to create an enabling environment to move forward. If the US could at least pay Pakistan some of its dues under the Coalition Support Fund, enabling us to restart the land route for the NATO containers, then this itself will be a move in the right direction. Listen, we have to open the route to landlocked Afghanistan at some time, so why not immediately," an unnamed policymaker was quoted as saying by The News.

The NATO supply routes through Pakistani territory were closed after last year’s air strike.

The Pakistan government is mulling several options for reopening the routes, including the imposition of a USD 1,000 tax on every NATO container sent to Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials were also mulling the option of asking Senator John Kerry to meet the kin of soldiers killed in the NATO air strike and to offer his condolences.
Kerry could also be asked to visit the site of the air strike and speak to the media about the "senseless attacks", which could go a long way in addressing the condition of an apology.