ISLAMABAD: Nato on Tuesday invited Pakistan to key talks on the future of Afghanistan in Chicago next week as Islamabad signalled it was about to end a nearly six-month blockade on supply routes.
Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen telephoned President Asif Ali Zardari to invite him to the May 20-21 summit, Islamabad said, a day after Pakistan’s foreign minister said it was time to “move on” after US air strikes killed 24 soldiers last November.
Pakistan’s involvement in the Chicago talks would minimise its international isolation and could boost its leverage over the future of neighbouring Afghanistan, as Nato countries pull out their combat forces by 2014.
Pakistan stopped short of confirming immediately that the president would travel to Chicago, but the invitation marks a return from the cold for Islamabad, which boycotted the last major international talks on Afghanistan, held in Bonn in December.
Hegemony or survival:
The Pakistani parliament has called in vain for an end to US drone strikes targeting Taliban and al Qaeda militants on its soil, and a formal US apology for the November air strikes.
Analysts say Pakistan has no choice but to reopen the border as US cash is needed to help boost its meager state coffers, at a time when major Nato discussions are under way affecting its own strategic future.
Sources familiar with the discussions told AFP the government had effectively decided to end the blockade, probably by the beginning of next week.
Both sides had found “broad agreement” on logistics for the fuel and other non-lethal supplies that would go overland through Pakistan to Afghanistan, one source said.
“The meetings will indicate that the decision has the backing of all the stakeholders,” the source told AFP.
“This should minimise the prospect for religious groups to exploit the situation in the hope that they’ll get the backing of the military establishment.” Pakistan previously negotiated a fee of $160 per 40-foot container and is now looking to secure anywhere from $320 to $500, although the figure has yet to be agreed, one source told AFP.
The United States has also guaranteed payment of at least $1.1 billion should the borders reopen, as compensation for fighting militants, the source added.
NATO had previously stated they’d be giving Pakistan the cold shoulder.