As NATO countries and those providing transit facilities to supplies for coalition forces in Afghanistan charted the post-2014 course in Chicago, they acknowledged that lasting peace in the strife-torn country would not be possible without the positive engagement of Pakistan.
The summit declaration at the Chicago Conference said: “The countries in the region, particularly Pakistan, have important roles in ensuring enduring peace, stability and security in Afghanistan and in facilitating the completion of the transition process.” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was even more categorical, maintaining that “we cannot solve the problems of Afghanistan without the positive engagement of Pakistan”.
The summit declaration itself reflected the continuing deadlock between NATO and Pakistan over the reopening of the Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC/NATO supply lines).
Welcoming the progress on transit arrangements with central Asian partners and Russia, the declaration said NATO continued to work with Pakistan to reopen the GLOC as soon as possible.
The failure to arrive at an agreement on the conditions for the transit facility — particularly the cost of moving the shipment from Karachi to Afghanistan through Pakistan — spawned reports in the American media that U.S. President Barack Obama had refused to meet his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari for a bilateral engagement at Chicago.
By evening Pakistani television channels were claiming that the two had met on the sidelines of the summit but there was no official confirmation, neither about seeking a bilateral engagement at the presidential level nor of an informal interface.
In any case, the only bilateral engagement scheduled for the American President was with his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai.
Pakistan and the U.S. had a bilateral engagement though — between Mr. Zardari and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with their respective delegations. Mr. Zardari also met Mr. Karzai, who in his meeting with the American President said his country was looking forward to the completion of the troop withdrawal in 2014 so that Afghanistan is no longer a burden on the international community.
Resolve to remain
In the summit declaration, NATO countries reiterated their resolve to remain engaged with Afghanistan after 2014 when the country enters what Mr. Karzai described as the transformational decade. Stating that NATO would continue to provide strong and long-term political and practical support through “our Enduring Partnership with Afghanistan”, the declaration articulates member countries' willingness to work toward establishing “at the request” of Afghanistan a new “post-2014 mission of a different nature” to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Security Forces including the Afghan Special Operations Forces.
Meanwhile, just ahead of the meeting in Chicago, the Taliban reportedly hinted a willingness to return to the negotiating table. In a statement faxed to The Express Tribune, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid was quoted as stating that the Islamic Emirate has left all military and political doors open. “It wants to secure the rights of the Afghan nation through all possible ways,” the statement said while also asking NATO to withdraw at the earliest or stay on in Afghanistan at its own peril.