May. 14, 2012 Defense News (AFP)
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan said May 14 it was time to “move on” and repair relations with the U.S. and NATO, the strongest sign yet that it is ready to reopen supply routes into Afghanistan closed for nearly six months.
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar made the remarks one day before Pakistani leaders are to discuss ending the blockade, and so cave in to a key demand from the West in time to attend a NATO summit in Chicago on May 20-21.
Islamabad shut its Afghan border to NATO supplies after U.S. airstrikes killed 24 soldiers on Nov. 26, provoking a major crisis in Pakistani-U.S. relations on top of the outcry from the raid that killed Osama bin Laden the previous May.
“It was important to make a point, Pakistan has made a point and we now need to move on and go into a positive zone and try to conduct our relations,” Pakistan’s foreign minister told a news conference.
“We are trying to put this relationship, you know, in a positive zone and I am quite sure that we will be successful in doing so.”
Pakistan has made what have so far been futile calls for an end to U.S. drone strikes targeting the Taliban and al-Qaida on its soil and a formal apology for the November killings.
But analysts believe it has no choice but to reopen the border when U.S. cash is needed to help boost government coffers ahead of the next budget.
Asked whether Islamabad would allow a resumption of NATO supplies, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said a decision would be made within days.
“There are a lot of sensitivities,” he told reporters. “How we can share things with you which are under discussion? We will share it in the next three to four days.”
On May 14, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani briefed President Asif Ali Zardari, army chief of staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani and ministers on his visit to Britain, the second largest contributor to the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
The presidency said the talks discussed “regional security” but did not refer explicitly to NATO.
Pakistani and U.S. officials spent the weekend locked in talks on reaching an understanding to govern fees, logistics and other obligations should trucks again carry NATO supplies through Pakistan.
The supply line negotiating team arrived in the country with U.S. special envoy Marc Grossman, who visited in April, and stayed on after he left, officials said.
Pakistan’s defense committee of the Cabinet, the country’s top civilian and military leaders, is to meet May 15 to discuss ending the blockade and repairing U.S. relations.
Pakistan’s parliament has demanded an end to U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani soil, but American officials consider the attacks a vital weapon in the war on Al-Qaeda.
Islamabad reiterated May 14 that it would still like an apology for the November airstrikes with the foreign minister saying it was “on the table.”
The U.S. has expressed regret for the deaths, which an American and NATO investigation said stemmed from mistakes made on both sides.
In a further sign that tensions are easing, Pakistan on May 13 hosted the most senior talks with NATO and the Afghan military in nearly a year.
U.S. Gen. John Allen, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, said he was “very encouraged” by the talks, which concentrated on improving border coordination.