Media reports from Pakistan indicate the NATO Afghan supply line that have remained blocked since the NATO strike on the Mohmand check post last November, are about to open. Furthermore, a tripartite meeting between Afghanistan, Pakistan and US officials were also held this week as the controversial drone strikes continued in Pakistan. Pakistan is also hosting a trilateral summit with Iran and Afghanistan from Feb 16 to 17 in Islamabad. A broad outline of a quid-pro-quo between US and Pakistan appears to be emerging.
NATO Afghan Supply Line
Pakistan’s Defense Minister, Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, stated this week that Pakistan will restore NATO supply route but not without imposing some conditions. The minister did not elaborate on the provisions; however, earlier reports indicated that Pakistan will impose taxes on the NATO tankers traversing the country. He also said that Pakistan wants to have good relations with all countries including the US. He added that the issue of drone attacks was still unresolved and will be raised.
Meanwhile, NATO, Afghan and Pakistani military officials held a tripartite meeting on border security and coordination issues on Wednesday, indicating the easing of tensionsfollowing a cross-border NATO air attack in November. Major General Ishfaq Nadeem represented Pakistan in the talks.
The religious parties and the newly formed Pakistan Defense Council has threatened that if the government restores the NATO routes, it will lay siege to the parliament till they change their decision. These elements were further incensed when US ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter commented that although land based supply lines were blocked by Pakistan, the air corridor has remained open.
Drone Strikes And Iran
On the other hand, two drone strikes continued in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The first Predator strike killed at least 9 suspected militants on early Wednesday morning. The missile targeted a house in Spalga area, 12 km from Miranshah. The locals from the area said that those killed had come from Punjab. However, the confirmed identities of those killed are still not known.
The second attack occurred on early Thursday morning in Miranshah and reportedly killed an important Al Qaeda target Badr Mansoor, believed to be running a training camp in North Waziristan. His elimination is considered to be a major blow to Al Qaeda’s ability to conduct operations in Pakistan. The death of Mansoor was confirmed by one of his loyalists; however, Pakistani intelligence officials are divided.
In an interview to The Sun, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Britain expressed concern over the drone strikes that have caused enormous losses of lives, schools and hospitals. He added that Pakistan government has to take some punitive measures soon against these strikes and that they have the means to defend their frontiers and territory. Addressing a rally in Swabi, Pakistan’s rising politician Imran Khan stated that drone attacks are humiliating for those in power and violates Pakistan’s sovereignty. He vowed that if his party comes in to power, he will not allow drone strikes and will shoot them down.
The High Commissioner, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, also urged British Prime Minister David Cameron to convince the US against the use of drone attacks, as they are counterproductive and only increasing hostility against US. Moreover, he added that if Israel attacks Iran, Pakistan would be left with no option but to support Iran. He commented, “We wouldn’t like to be seen as part of Israel’s campaign against any country. If Israel attacks Iran, it will have an impact on Pakistan as well.”
“We will have to safeguard our own interests. We also have a Shia population in Pakistan who will not take it lying down,” he added.
According to Pakistan’s foreign ministry, the country will be hosting a trilateral summit with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai next week. The two-day summit will be held from Feb 16 to Feb 17 in Islamabad. Pakistan and Iran are also discussing ways to enhance bilateral trade through banking cooperation and currency exchange.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit stated, “The trilateral summit is important for the leaders to get together and discuss important regional issues pertaining to counter-terrorism and organized crimes including drug trafficking.”
The summit is taking place as US has imposed one of the toughest sanctions on oil exports from Iran and any country that deals with Central Bank of Iran. However, despite US objections Pakistan has recommitted to complete the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project by 2014. On the other hand, Afghanistan is feeling sidelined from the reconciliation talks between US and Taliban.
The IP project has drawn strong reaction from Washington. Media reports indicate a senior US diplomat has stated that any attempt to go ahead will be construed as furthering Iran’s nuclear program. The US has warned Pakistan of serious trouble if it does not abandon the venture. US has said any country, bank, or financial institution that works with Iran will have to face the sanctions.
A broad outline of a quid-pro-quo appears to be emerging between US and Pakistan. For stopping the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project and other collaboration with Iran, as demanded by US, Pakistan may be requiring stoppage of drone strikes and more cooperation from US on the Afghan reconciliation process. Moreover, Pakistan may allow the opening of the NATO Afghan supply line by imposition of taxes on the lorries traversing through its territory, but it may also require an exemption from US for going ahead with IP project.