Amid news that Pakistan secretly allowed US-led Nato forces to use its airspace for transporting lethal supplies to Afghanistan despite a ground embargo has led to speculation that there US-Pakistan relations are on the mend. There are hopes for an announcement in July, say officials.
A Pakistani national daily, Daily Dawn, reported on Monday that two new developments – the call by secretary of state Hillary Clinton to newly installed PM, Raja Pervez Ashraf, and the presence of a high level US delegation in Islamabad, suggest that some agreements are in place for reopening of the NATO supply route to Afghanistan.
Pakistan-US relations have plummeted since a November 2011 raid by US forces in Pakistani soil. This raid led to the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers and prompted a sharp reaction from the military leadership, forcing the civilian government of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to suspend permission for overland supply of NATO supplies to Afghanistan.
Pakistan loses out financially as relations are in cold storage. The US administration has withheld funds meant for various projects in Pakistan under American assistance programmes and has delayed payments under the Coalition Support Fund, which compensates Pakistan for its role in the US war in Afghanistan. The breakdown has also meant less US commitments and threats of further economic slowdown.
For its part, Pakistan has demanded an apology from the US. Earlier, it had also demanded financial compensation for those killed. For allowing overland transportation of NATO supplies, it has also revised what it charges per container – the revised fee being ten times the earlier amount.
Observers see all these as tactics by Islamabad to manage to extract the maximum from the US side. But some say Pakistan may have outplayed its hand.
“The bravado that we first saw has died down. What we are seeing is the new PM looking for a way out that is acceptable to both sides,” comments analyst Javed Chaudhry, who adds that Pakistan seems to have lost out more from the embargo, if seen in the long term. Now they say there is a rethink prompted by a change of guard in the PM House. The new PM wants something tangible to be achieved.
As talks progress, the news is that the Americans are now content to give an apology but also want a joint investigation which addresses their point that the Pakistani troops also attacked. This is something that the military leadership in Pakistan does not want, say insiders.
The Pakistan Army has not only portrayed itself as the victim but has also managed to muster public support to its cause with the help of religious organizations and right wing parties. Some of the most vocal critics of the resumption in NATO supplies is the newly emerging Pakistan Tehreek-insaf party of Imran Khan.
But there is hope that common sense will prevail on both sides. Pakistan's economy is on the bring and a push either way by the US can make or break it warn economists. That is why there is a new urgency to settle the issue ahead of general elections. In all this, two women are playing a role from the Pakistani side to bring things to a positive conclusion. One is foreign minister Hina Rabbani and the other is Pakistan’s envoy to the US, Sherry Rehman.
In separate statements, both have said that things are moving in the right direction. Analysts say that the army leadership has been convinced in Pakistan for a face saving compromise.
“I would have said that there will be a breakthrough in the next week or so, but since this has been said so many times in the past, it would be best to wait and see for ourselves,” commented analyst Aisha Siddiqa.