Relations between Pakistan and NATO are still tense as Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has hinted that his country's participation in the forthcoming NATO conference in Chicago is not too certain.
Despite several meetings between US and Pakistani officials during the past few months, there are no signs that US-Pakistani relations will be back to normal any time soon. On Thursday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said his government had not yet taken a decision on the participation in NATO's Chicago conference, to be held on May 20-21. Gilani said his government would decide on it in the light of the recommendations of a parliamentary committee, which was given the task to review the US-Pakistani ties.
Relations between the two broke down after a NATO border strike near Afghanistan killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on November 26 last year. Separate probes by the Pentagon and NATO into the lethal airstrike revealed that inadequate coordination and a lack of "fundamental trust" had led to the tragedy. No apology was handed over to Islamabad. For its part, the Pakistani government rejected the findings and demanded that the US and NATO apologize.
Islamabad also blocked the key NATO supply line to Afghanistan in retaliation, which has still not been reopened. It also boycotted a key Afghanistan conference in Bonn, Germany, in December last year.
Pakistan, which is often accused of supporting Taliban militants in Afghanistan, is an important US ally in the "war on terror," and its cooperation is considered crucial to maintaining stability in neighboring war-torn Afghanistan before foreign combat troops leave the country at the end of 2014.
Domestic pressure on the government
The Pakistani parliament has recently approved new "terms of engagement" with the US and NATO.
Ayaz Amir, member of the lower house of the Pakistani parliament, said the main hindrance in the easing of ties between Islamabad and Washington was the death of Pakistani soldiers. This issue, he said, needed to be resolved.
"It is difficult for the Pakistani government to resume NATO supplies," Amir told DW. "Islamist groups have warned the government of dire consequences if it tried to reopen the NATO supplies to Afghanistan. The government will have to take people into confidence before opening the supply route."
Some Pakistani observers are of the opinion that it is in Pakistan's interest to improve its ties with the US.
General (retired) Talat Masood, an Islamabad-based defense expert, told DW that Pakistan should keep its national interests in mind and should not insists on an apology.
"There is no doubt that the US and other Western countries will increase their pressure on Pakistan in the coming days. The international financial institutions, too, are going to use their influence to make Islamabad bow down and resume NATO supplies." Masood added that Pakistan should not allow Taliban militants to gain from the current spat with the US.
No signs of resumption of NATO supplies
Meanwhile, hundreds of trucks loaded with NATO supplies have been stranded in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar for more than six months. The blockade is causing serious financial problems to the owners of these vehicles.
"At least 1,000 trucks have been stranded on the Ring Road of Peshawar," said Zar Lal Khan, who works at the Ring Road terminus. "We can neither sell our vehicles, nor can we drive them. We don't have enough money to put fuel in our trucks. We are hoping that the NATO supplies will soon be resumed and we will be able to earn some money," he added.
But most political parties in Pakistan oppose the resumption of the NATO supply line.
"We should not give more concessions to the NATO," said Zafar Iqbal Jhagra of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League. Jhagra said, "This will ensure that the US troops will withdraw from Afghanistan," adding that he firmly believed there could be no peace in Afghanistan until the withdrawal of the NATO troops.
Author: Shakoor Rahim, Faridullah Khan / shs
Editor: Sarah Berning