Defence Committee of Cabinet clears Zardari's participation

Pakistan on Tuesday secured an invitation to NATO's Chicago Summit on Afghanistan with Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen personally calling up President Asif Ali Zardari to extend the invite. Though the President responded that the invitation would be considered in line with the guidelines of Parliament for re-engagement with the U.S./NATO and advice of the government, the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) late in the night green signalled his participation.

According to the President's office, this was an unconditional invitation and not linked to the reopening of the ground lines of communication (GLOC/ NATO supply lines) or any other issue. Mr. Rasmussen's statement last Friday that all countries providing transit facilities to the NATO to Afghanistan were invited to Chicago was inferred in Pakistan as an indication that it may be left out if it did not open the GLOC that have been closed following the Salala incident in November.

The uncertainty over whether Pakistan would be invited to the high table at Chicago ended after clear indications from Islamabad that it wanted to move on from the stalemate that has settled on relations with the U.S.-led NATO since Salala, where 26 Pakistan Army soldiers were killed in a helicopter attack by the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

The invitation came hours before the DCC was scheduled to meet to finalise the contours of what was described by Dawn newspaper as a “face-saving deal'' that would allow Washington and Islamabad to move beyond Salala.

The DCC meeting will be followed by a session of the federal cabinet on Wednesday after which an announcement is expected; not just on the invitation but also the new terms of engagement with the U.S./NATO; particularly reopening the GLOC. Local media reports suggested that the corps commanders would also meet on Wednesday to show the military's support for breaking the deadlock.

While Pakistan appeared to have softened its insistence on an apology from the U.S. for the Salala incident – Washington has regretted it more than once – Islamabad is also hoping for a better bargain vis-a-vis transit fees for the GLOC. For 10 years since the global war on terror began, the NATO supplies were allowed to transit through Pakistan into Afghanistan gratis and a nominal fee was imposed only recently. Pakistan is hoping to charge more from the NATO for this facility; citing the damage it caused to the country's infrastructure because of overuse by heavy vehicles and the terror strikes on these convoys.

Another clear pointer towards the reopening of the NATO supply lines came from oil tanker owners who said they had been told by the government that the transit facility would be opened shortly. And, the Difa-e-Council Pakistan – a coalition of right wing outfits created following the Salala incident to protest the ISAF attacks – has fallen silent; confirming the general perception among Pakistani opinion-makers that it was an agitation orchestrated by the Deep State.

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