Reports create confusion about army’s position on Nato supplies
ISLAMABAD: The recent meetings in Islamabad, interaction with top government functionaries and senior PPP leaders establish one thing very clearly that if President Asif Ali Zardari announces reopening of Nato supply routes in Chicago, he will further distance himself and his camp in PPP from the people, Parliament, Pakistan Army and even the sincere leadership of his political party.
Senior PPP leader Mian Raza Rabbani says the recommendations given by Parliament, including an apology by United States on Salala attack, are binding on the government before making any decision on reopening of Nato supply routes.
On the other hand, senior government officials have clarified a wrong perception, saying the Pakistan Army is still opposing any “shameful” restoration of Nato supply routes without even implementing Parliament’s recommendations, a stance which was abundantly clear in the recent DCC meeting.
The perception gathered weight and became viral on the social media when it was announced that President Zardari will attend the Nato summit in Chicago, and pro-PPP elements started planting information that the Army was fully supporting an unconditional reopening of Nato supply lines.
The ruling PPP and other major political parties appear to have backtracked from their public commitments that supply lines would be reopened only after United States will fulfill certain conditions set by the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) which were later approved by Parliament.
Credible sources now confirm that the federal government is all set to compromise on the basic conditions, including an apology on Salala attack and stopping of drone attacks to appease the United States and to have its blessings.
But PPP leaders in the government are leaking to selected media men that the Army has raised no objection to any decision by the government to reopen NATO supply and the Army chief himself has given an assurance to Isaf commanders in Afghanistan that Nato supply routes would be reopened.
Senior officials say this topic was not even on the agenda of tripartite meeting between army commanders of Pakistan, US and Afghanistan. The officials say keeping aside the media reports and spin, even the press release issued by the ISPR does not talk about any discussion on NATO supplies in this meeting.
A three-line press release issued by ISPR on May 13, read: “Rawalpindi—35th meeting of Tripartite Commission was held between military authorities of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Isaf, today. The Commission provides a forum to raise and process contentious issues and facilitate settlement. Talks focused on border control measures, and mechanisms put in place to avoid untoward incidents on both sides of Pak-Afghan border. “Pakistan Army contingent was led by COAS, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. General John Allen, Commander Isaf and General Sher Muhammad Karimi, Chief of General Staff Afghan National Army, headed respective delegations.”
Deliberate confusion was apparently spread by some pro-government media circles when a news item was circulated by a news agency which has known links with the top PPP leadership. This news item issued on May 10, quoted “reliable and well-informed military sources” and revealed that Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parez Kayani will accompany President Asif Ali Zardari to Chicago to attend the Nato leadership conference starting from May 20.
This item was released when no one even had any idea that Pakistan will even get an invitation to the summit and that President Zardari will represent the country.
The item further said that the decision to include General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was made during last week’s troika’s meeting held at the Aiwan-e-Sadr. The more important part of this item was that “President Zardari had directed Gen Kayani to accompany him (Zardari) to Nato leadership conference during this meeting, which was also attended by Prime Minister, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani.”
Online news agency report said it “was further informed that General Kayani would assist the president in the conference matters, besides meeting American military leadership, during which Kayani would also raise the issue of defence needs of Pakistani Armed Forces and continuous drone attacks.
Yet another startling disclosure was made in the news item. It quoted sources having “disclosed that the Pakistani military wanted to carry out a limited operation in Northern Waziristan to face the Nato leadership conference with a more favorable stance. American President Obama’s special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mark Grossman, had delivered a special invitation to President Asif Ali Zardari on Obama’s behalf, after which Pakistan had decided to attend this conference.
This story was not denied or retracted by the Online news agency but a major newspaper on May 18 reported that General Kayani had changed his mind to accompany President Zardari in view of the negative reaction if Nato supplies were resumed.
Another intriguing news report, also coming from media circles close to the government, claimed that a meeting of the Corps Commanders was held in Rawalpindi, when the ISPR had totally denied any such meeting.
Not only these media circles claimed that the meeting was held, assumed details of the Corps Commanders discussions were also leaked (or cooked up) and two key points mentioned were that the Corps Commanders had expressed full confidence in Army Chief General Kayani and a proposed operation in North Waziristan was discussed.
Why did the Corps Commander feel the need to show confidence in their chief was not explained but it is a highly unusual thing, if it ever happened. Yet the ISPR did not say a word to remove that impression.
The ISPR, when contacted several times, only repeated a one-line statement that no meeting of the Corps Commanders was held, but it said nothing about the speculations and spin that was attributed to the top level meeting of the army commanders, something that had never happened before.
Later, when this spin in media started getting credibility because of silence of the ISPR, the army again came on record and clarified that nothing regarding the Nato supply restoration was discussed in Isaf meeting in Afghanistan.
Many analysts believe that in case of unplanned reopening of Nato supplies, a new wave of terrorism will hit the country, mostly ordinary people, while members of Zardari-camp, ministers and generals will continue to move under foolproof security arrangements. They believe that any decision in this regard should be taken by keeping ground realities in view and considering the fact that such blind following of US policies is a major reason to push even the moderate youth towards the extremists.
PCNS Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani, while talking to The News, said that an unconditional apology by US on Salala attack was a mandatory part of the recommendations of his committee.
The recommendations of the PCNS were approved by Parliament and hence are binding on the government,” Rabbani said in categorical terms.
He said that the government could not ignore the recommendations of the parliament.
When asked that Pakistan’s ambassador to US Sherry Rehman has said that talks to discuss supply routes had begun and “Pakistan will continue pressing US for a Salala apology,” Rabbani said that statement of Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani in an TV interview was more important for him who had said that no decision has been made so far.
“I will not comment on the hypothesis that the government will open supply routes without following Parliament’s recommendations,” Rabbani said, adding: “But, government is bound to follow Parliament’s recommendations, and it could not reopen Nato supply routes without fulfillment of conditions given in these recommendations.”
Sherry Rehman had stated on Twitter that “Pakistan will attend Nato summit; discussions begin on supply routes; Pakistan will continue to press for Salala apology and will work for best national outcomes.”
She had further stated: “The military will look to fresh border ground rules with Nato, Isaf so incidents like Salala don’t recur.”
Some people had expressed shock on her statements, but the government, in Islamabad, was sticking to the position that it had not decided to reopen Nato routes.