By Georgy Vanetsov
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has urged Pakistan to reopen transit supply routes to Afghanistan, warning that Pakistan could miss out on Afghanistan talks in Chicago if it failed to cooperate. The talks will be held on the sidelines of the NATO summit on May 18-19.
In fact, Pakistan stands before an ultimatum of either siding with the US or opposing it. Pakistan hasn’t been invited to the international conference on Afghanistan yet. Neither has it been barred from the meeting. “Our transit routes through Pakistan are currently blocked so we have to continue our dialogue with Pakistan with a view to finding a solution to that because that’s really a matter of concern,” Rasmussen said.
Other alternatives that the US-led NATO has to the Pakistani transit corridor to Afghanistan, such as Russia’s “Northern route,” are much longer and costlier, with deliveries lasting three times more than via Pakistan.
US-Pakistani relations have been on the downhill slide ever since the American operation to kill Osama bin Laden, which was carried out by US special forces on Pakistani soil without giving any notice to local authorities. Tensions hit a new low after US troops fired an “errant” missile into the Pakistani territory, killing 24 border patrol officers and wounding more than 40. This was the last straw that pushed infuriated Islamabad to demand that the Pentagon stopped drone attacks. On the heels of the incident, Pakistan also blocked NATO’s transit supply route to Afghanistan. In fact, anti-American and anti-US sentiments have never ceased simmering among the Pakistani.
Most threat is posed by local extremist and terrorist groupings, such as Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, an alliance of Pakistani Taliban militants, who have been threatening lawmakers with death if they ever considered reopening the transit supply route for the coalition forces.
Pakistani officials can’t turn a blind eye to these threats given a grievous situation in the country. Still, the Pakistani parliament has advised the government to revive the transit route. But not without conditions. Lawmakers demanded a formal apology from the US and NATO for their strike on the Pakistan’s border outpost and called for an end to US cross-border attacks on Pakistan. They also demanded that American drones stop flying over the Pakistani territory. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani asserted the parliament that the government would heed their advice, in what was viewed as a signal of a likely positive outcome by many monitors.
Sergey Mikheyev, Director General of the Center for Political Conjuncture, said that “the Pakistani government doesn’t seem too eager to restore this even more than chilly relationship with the US. However, the common goal of fighting terrorism may serve as a unifying framework.” “I believe the Pakistani routes will be opened – but under more strict conditions for the US. Moreover, Pakistan depends on American financial and military aid, which will also factor in.”
Next Tuesday, the Cabinet is to consider reopening the NATO supply lines to Afghanistan. Head of state, Foreign, interior and finance ministers, as well as intelligence and army chiefs will hold talk on whether a ticket to the NATO summit in May is worth improving relations with the US.