Defence Commitee Cabinet approves accord after US says ‘sorry’ over Salala attack: Nato supply routes reopened
ISLAMABAD: The Defence Committee of the Cabinet allowed on Tuesday reopening of Nato ground supply routes for the sake of Afghan peace and stability and facilitating drawdown of coalition forces from Afghanistan after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said ‘sorry’ over the deaths of 24 Pakistani troops in the Salala border post attack.
The decision of the defence committee, which serves as the highest national security policy coordination forum, was announced by Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira at the conclusion of its meeting. He said the decision had been taken in accordance with a mandate given by parliament and aspirations of people.
The “DCC decided to reopen the Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC) through Pakistani territory to and from Afghanistan to facilitate the transition and the subsequent transformation process in that country,” a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office later said.
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had in his opening comments made it clear that the decision to open the transit routes, which remained suspended for over seven months, had already been taken as he said: “The continued closure of supply lines not only impinges on our relationship with the US, but also on our relations with the 49 other member states of Nato/Isaf.”
While the session presided over by Raja Ashraf with services chiefs and key federal ministers in attendance was in progress, Secretary Clinton issued a statement saying she had spoken to Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani and said “sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military”.
She said that she had been assured by Ms Khar about the reopening of the supply routes known as Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC) in the official terminology.
But, more important to note in Secretary Clinton’s statement was that both of them “acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives”. This was quite a significant change in the stance on the part of Pakistan, which had always said that the strikes on border posts were deliberate and planned.
A Pentagon inquiry into the incident had concluded that November 25-26 air strikes were the result of mistakes and botched communications on both sides. But, the findings were then dismissed by Pakistan military.
The details of the final settlement as available from statements by the Prime Minister’s Office and Secretary Clinton show that Pakistan wouldn’t charge any additional amount for the use of land routes. Moreover, there is a provision for transporting lethal equipment through Pakistan if it is booked for Afghan National Security Forces.
Negotiators from the two countries kept haggling over the fee for transit until Pakistan renewed the demand for an apology in mid-June then leading to Washington withdrawing its negotiating team from Islamabad.
Information Minister Kaira defended the decision on not levying any new fee saying it proved that Pakistan’s stance was principled and was about national honour and dignity.
Beyond the “sorry” word, which has started a debate if it was suitable substitute for the demanded apology, the only worthwhile outcome from Pakistani context was an assurance that there would be no repeat of Salala type attacks.
“We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again,” Secretary Clinton said.
Mr Kaira said negotiations over the drone strikes and the appropriate tools for fighting militancy would continue. Ms Clinton too mentioned the importance of taking coordinated action against terrorists who threatened Pakistan, the United States and the region, but stayed short of saying if that meant an understanding on future strikes by pilot-less predator drones.
Pakistan’s move to reopen the GLOC was immediately welcomed by US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and Isaf Commander Gen John Allen, who was here twice over the past few days to finalise the deal and is being credited for repairing ruptured military to military ties that were at the heart of soured bilateral relationship.
Ambassador to the US Ms Sherry Rehman said: “As we announce the opening of the GLOC, it is clear that Pakistan is playing a role as a responsible global partner in stabilising the region.”