First the facts on Pakistan-US relations and the Chicago summit.
Clearly the summit fell in the middle of hard negotiations between two troubled allies and both struggled with how Pakistan’s participation question at the summit can be used to their own negotiating advantage. In Pakistan the government, independent foreign policy analysts and others including the former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, all believed that while Pakistan’s participation in the Chicago summit was not going to provide any instant solutions, it was important for Pakistan to remain engaged one, at international forums on the question of Afghanistan’s transition process, two with the 58-member NATO alliance and three with the US which has finally recognized the need to engage the Taliban for any viable transition process.
From Washington and Brussels the message was clear, that Pakistan would only be invited to Chicago if it opened the NATO supply routes. In both capitals the calculation was that the Chicago card could be used to force Pakistan’s hand to produce an immediate opening of the supply routes. The final decision on the timing has until now rested with Pakistan’s Finance ministry-led multi-agency negotiating team which has, for over the last three weeks has been engaged with a multi-agency US team. While the terms of settlement have been the major issue, the Pakistani government has also continuously called for a US apology for the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers at the Salala check-post.
After several meetings that were held in the Presidency, in which the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Finance Minister, Interior Minister and the Army Chief participated, it was decided to send a positive signal regarding Pakistan’s intent on the NATO supply routes. First the Foreign Minister’s statement came that it was now almost time to re-open the supply routes after having closed them for six months. Then came the statement after the Defense Committee of the Cabinet that Pakistan’s negotiating team is being instructed to conclude the negotiations on re-opening of the supply routes. Obviously the negotiating team was given parameters within which the re-opening could take place, and those required that Washington’s agree to the terms Pakistan was proposing. Hence settling matters still required time. Pakistan had however expressed its intent to re-open the supply routes.
Taking the cue from the statements from Pakistan, NATO issued the invitation. Washington’s calculation was, as reported in May 22nd Wall Street Journal “US officials hoped Mr Zardari’s attendance would clear the way for the crossings to open as early as Sunday or Monday.” And it is this unmet expectation that produced the tensions and the reports related to day 1 of the Chicago summit. The word went around that from this “unconditional invitation” the US had expected Pakistan’s goodwill gesture of at least releasing the few hundred held up NATO trucks and since that has not happened no meeting for the Pakistani President with the US President! If the expectation was that setting up such a quid pro quo would mean instant opening of the routes that was naïve.
Similarly part of the pressure, that some in the US administration believed would work, negative stories were circulated in the NATO media center by “sources” immediately after President Zardari’s meeting with the Secretary Clinton. That the Secretary essentially presented Washington’s demand list ranging from opening of the NATO supply routes to ending support for the militants and that US had taken the issue of apology off its check list of issues that needed to be addressed. The bottom-line was that that there was no meeting ground between the two as Pakistan presented its demands.
But the facts were different. At the Zardari-Clinton meeting there was agreement between the two to take specific steps on the two of the four issues on which the negotiations have yet to result in a settlement. One, on the NATO supply routes a decision was taken that a very senior Pakistani and US official will step in to resolve the outstanding issue of the container fee. Two, the issue of apology could be addressed within a package agreement that could simultaneously address all the four issues.
On the two other issues, including no repeat of Salala and no unilateral drone attacks, the two militaries and intelligence agencies have been engaged in dialogue. While border control mechanisms to avoid another Salala like attack are almost in place, discussions between ISI and CIA to agree on specific parameters within which drone attacks would take place, are almost near finalization. Clearly the parliament’s no drones recommendation has been translated into no unilateral drone attacks. This will continue to weigh heavy on the government politically, while the army concedes, the best possible way out is to ensure that these attacks take place with prior notice to Pakistan based on shared intel and also within certain geographical areas. There was also discussion on sanctuaries and the Haqqani network.
As a consequence of the Zardari-Clinton meeting by contrast day two at the Chicago summit began with a brief conversation between the US President and the Pakistani President. Acknowledgement of this brief “meeting” came from the White House. And a US paper subsequently reported “Mr Obama’s surprise talks with Mr Zardari on the sidelines of the summit, however brief represented a departure from the White house plans to keep him at arm’s length until the crossing reopen.” The Wall Street quoted officials that “ decision was made to ratchet back tensions after Mr Zardari had a “productive” meeting with Secretary of State Clinton. Clinton, always the wisest voice in the Obama Administration, led her President away from an inappropriate and counter-productive tactic of boycotting the Pakistani President.
Meanwhile later at the Afghanistan meeting Pakistan clearly presenting its position on Afghanistan ranging from Pakistan’s commitment to regional peace, stability and trade, to the setback from the Salala attack to the sacrifices made by Pakistan and the parameters set by Pakistan’s parliament for negotiating the reopening of NATO supply routes. He emphasized that the DCC decision on the NATO supply routes were now being implemented by a negotiating team mandated to do so. President Zardari also announced a 20 million dollar contribution towards the Afghan National Forces.
Significantly soon after the President’s address, the NATO Secretary General said NATO invited Pakistan to the summit because it sought “positive engagement with Pakistan,” appreciated Pakistan’s commitment to Afghan peace and was hopeful about Pakistan reopening the NATO supply lines. At his concluding press conference Obama spoke of the need for Pakistan to “play its very important role in Afghanistan” and work with the US to fight extremism.
Pakistan’s participation in the Chicago summit has helped the troubled Pakistan-US relations move a step forward towards some resolution.
Pakistan, while remaining committed to facilitating NATO’s role of ensuring security and stability in Afghanistan, Pakistan made its case of having the right to pursue its own national interest too. This includes a demand for US apology, no unilateral drone strikes and no repeat of Salala.
By indicating before the summit that Pakistan was willing to open the NATO supply routes and then by subsequently attending the Chicago summit, Pakistan has retrieved some of the negotiating space that it lost by unnecessarily prolonging the parliamentary process and unwisely asking for a US delay in publicly apologizing over Salala. However while all attention remains focused on the four issues, that are on the bilateral check-list of problems, a significant policy question regarding the Haqqani network and the “sanctuary issue” in Pakistan also needs more vigorous and honest dialogue. That is a fundamental point of divergence between the two countries, overshadowing the more significant convergence on the need to end terrorism and militancy in Afghanistan and the region.
First the facts on Pakistan-US relations and the Chicago summit.