NATO invites Pakistani leader to coming summit
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — NATO on Tuesday announced that Pakistan would be invited to the alliance’s Chicago summit on the future of Afghanistan this weekend, following signs from Pakistani authorities that they would end their nearly six-month blockade on Afghanistan-bound NATO supply routes through their country.
President Asif Ali Zardari’s spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, said NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh-Rasmussen phoned the Pakistani leader Tuesday to extend the invitation.
Earlier this week, the alliance had suggested that Pakistan’s participation in the May 20-21 gathering would not be possible if the supply routes remained closed. However, Babar insisted that the invitation was unconditional and not linked to the reopening of the supply routes.
Babar said Zardari would consider the invitation and inform NATO soon about whether he would participate.
[Updated May 15, 12:38 p.m.: The reopening of the supply routes was discussed Friday at a meeting of the Pakistani Cabinet’s Defense Committee, a body that includes senior civilian and military leaders. Late Tuesday, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira announced that the committee had failed to reach a decision and would meet again at a later date to continue talks.]
Ties between the U.S. and Pakistan have been largely on hold since Nov. 26, when errant U.S. airstrikes along the Afghan border killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The attack, which Pakistan insisted was unprovoked and deliberate, was seen by most Pakistanis as the last straw in a deeply troubled relationship that for years has been marred by mutual mistrust and a divergence of interests.
Pakistan retaliated by prohibiting the Afghanistan-bound supply convoys from using its territory as a transit route. Roughly 40% of NATO’s non-lethal supplies move by truck from the Pakistani port city of Karachi to crossings on the Afghan border.
Islamabad also forced the U.S. to vacate an air base in southern Pakistan that in the past has been suspected as a launch pad for CIA drone attacks.
Earlier this week, Pakistani officials said they believed they had conveyed their anger about the November airstrikes and were ready to restore relations with the U.S. and NATO.
“It was important to make a point,” said Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar at a news conference in Islamabad on Monday. “Pakistan has made a point, and now we can move on.”
— Alex Rodriguez
Photo: Tanker trucks, used to transport fuel to NATO forces in Afghanistan, are seen parked near oil terminals in Pakistan's port city of Karachi on Tuesday. Credit: Asif Hassan / Agence France-Presse Getty Images.