ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s cabinet met Wednesday, expected to endorse the country’s attendance at key talks on Afghanistan in Chicago and edge towards lifting a blockade on overland NATO supplies to its war-torn neighbour after an agreement on the payments.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told ministers that Pakistan, which shut the transit lines in November after US air strikes killed 24 of its soldiers, should not take “emotional decisions, which do not augur well for us in the long run”.
He said relations with NATO and the United States were at “a delicate phase where we need to take critical decisions” for Pakistan’s “strategic importance” in the region and in its national interest.
Army commanders also met on Wednesday to discuss the matter. The US air strikes plunged Pakistan’s relations with the United States, already frayed by the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, into their worst crisis since Pakistan joined the US-led war effort in 2001.
By going to Chicago, Pakistan hopes to ease its international isolation and boost its leverage over the future of Afghanistan, as Western countries pull out their combat forces by 2014. But Islamabad has been essentially forced to climb down on demands for an American apology for the air strikes and an end to drone strikes targeting Taliban and Al-Qaeda on its soil.
Analysts say Pakistan had no choice but capitulate to international pressure to reopen the border, with US cash needed to help boost its meagre state coffers as the government prepares to seek re-election.
On Tuesday, the cabinet’s defence committee, which includes security chiefs and top ministers, welcomed a NATO invitation for Zardari to attend the summit and cleared the way for him to attend.
It also authorised negotiations to conclude on new terms and conditions for resuming the transit of fuel and other non-lethal items needed by NATO..
The United States has made increasing use of more expensive routes into northern Afghanistan and the Pakistan supply routes constitute as little as 25 percent of what NATO needs to sustain itself in its nearly 11-year fight against the Taliban.
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, said one source familiar with the discussions.