US accepts terms of engagement with Islamabad
The United States' acceptance of the news terms of engagement with Islamabad is likely to result in the lifting of the seven-month blockade of NATO supply line to Afghanistan, reports Tahir Ali.
Islamabad is close to announcing the resumption of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) supply line into Afghanistan, as the United States has accepted the new terms of engagement with Pakistan that cover all aspects of bilateral ties between the two countries as enumerated by Islamabad.
The NATO supply line was closed after the Salala incident where NATO forces killed 24 Pakistani troopers in November last year.
According to sources, Pakistan accepted the set of proposals handed over to it by the high-powered US mission during the two-day talks in Islamabad.
The draft of the understanding will come up for formal approval in the meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC). The meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday, will be chaired by Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, following which the federal cabinet will endorse the decisions of the DCC on Wednesday.
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Image: Tankers carrying fuel for NATO forces cross Torkham border into Afghanistan
NATO route to be used strictly for non-lethal goods only
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will call her counterpart in Islamabad Hina Rabbani Khar and will convey an apology for the Salala incident. The remaining issues will be settled one after the other as the ground lines of communication (G-LOC) are reopened.
The route will be strictly used only for non-lethal goods for the troops combating in Afghanistan. The passage fee per container would be charged according to its size and the stuff carried would be subject to scrutiny as no weapon or ammunition would be allowed to be transported.
The US has assured Pakistan that it would respect Pakistan's sovereignty and intelligence sharing will guide the use of drones in difficult terrain of the tribal areas.
Federal Minister for Finance Senator Hafeez Shaikh told the media that since the US had agreed to almost all the conditions set by Pakistan, one should not think in acrimonious terms. Khar, who also looked jubilant about the developments, said, "We are close to a new beginning."
In the meantime, highly-placed diplomatic sources have revealed that Washington had assured Islamabad that it would release half of the payment equaling $400 million (approx Rs 2080 cr) under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) next week, while the rest would be released within this year.
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US to release USD 400 million to Pak
The United States had pledged that it would pay Pakistan $800 million (Rs 4160 cr) in the year 2011 for providing assistance in the 'war on terror', but tension in the ties came in the way of payment according to the stipulated time. The US is bound to pay Pakistan an amount of 2.5 billion US dollars approx (Rs 13,000 cr).
The United States will also discuss at the appropriate level the realisation of funds under the Kerry-Lugar law that will help improve the balance of payment and allow the government to fulfill the fiscal commitment it had made in the budget for the next year with its people. With this, the military cooperation between the two defence establishments would also be restored, sources maintained.
The sources said that Finance Minister Senator Hafeez Shaikh, who led Pakistan in talks with visiting US Undersecretary of State Thomas Nydes, has reported to Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf about the outcome of the negotiations on Monday evening. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was also present.
Pakistan's Ambassador in the United States Sherry Rehman arrived in Islamabad in the wee hours of Tuesday. For this purpose, Pakistan's Ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman held extensive talks with US authorities in Washington during the last few days. She was called back from Washington and is expected to brief the civil and military leadership about her talks ahead of the DCC meeting. The US has so far resisted demands of a public apology — a precondition set by the government to reopen NATO supply routes. Washington's reluctance is attributed to the Obama Administration's domestic compulsion in an election year.