x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Pakistan review of military deal with US may reopen roads for Nato supplies

Lawmakers are likely to propose a ban on unilateral and unannounced raids by the US forces such as the one that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani town last May.

Pakistan closed supply routes for Nato into Afghanistan in November after a US air strike killed 25 Pakistani soldiers a border post.
Pakistan closed supply routes for Nato into Afghanistan in November after a US air strike killed 25 Pakistani soldiers a border post.

ISLAMABAD // Pakistan's parliament today opens a review of the country's controversial and much criticised military deal with the United States, vital for ending the decade-long war in Afghanistan but which has undermined the government's popularity and boosted tensions with its own military.

The review may lead to reopening Pakistani roads for supplies for Nato-led forces in Afghanistan but the lawmakers are likely to propose a ban on unilateral and unannounced raids by the US forces such as the one that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani town last May.

Relations between the two important but uneasy allies have effectively been frozen since a US air strike killed 25 Pakistani soldiers at their border posts in Pakistan in November.

In retaliation, Pakistan closed supply routes for Nato into Afghanistan - which account for about half of all non-lethal supplies - and forced the United States to shut its drone operations against the militants from a Pakistani airbase.

But the move also stripped Pakistan of taxes it imposed on some of those supplies.

Under tremendous domestic pressure, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani assigned the parliamentary committee on national security to prepare proposals for a new security deal with the United States.

The details of the proposed deal have not been made public.

Pakistan's cooperation is vital for the United States for its efforts to stabilise Afghanistan and supply its forces with food and other items, but their ties have been undermined by mistrust and suspicions.

US officials suspect Pakistan's main spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), of maintaining ties with the militants in a bid to maintain its influence in Afghanistan once foreign forces leave.

Those suspicions were reinforced after US forces discovered and killed bin Laden in a compound not far from Pakistan's main army academy

The use of unmanned drones to attack militants in Pakistan, which has increased dramatically under the US President Barack Obama, had soured relations - for operating in Pakistani territory and for the number of civilian casualties.

Pakistani officials have publicly demanded the United States stop the strikes but it is widely believed that, in private, Pakistan has quietly supported the programme.

Analysts say the parliament may express its reservations over the US drone campaign but is unlikely to publicly call on the United States to stop it, Washington considers it as the most effective tool to eliminate dangerous militants.

Hundreds of militants, including senior Al Qaeda operatives, have been killed in the CIA-operated drone strikes.

The US is anyway unlikely to stop the drone strikes.

"Many people in Pakistan know that the United States would not listen to call to stop drone strikes. Therefore, they will not call for it as it will lower the image of the parliament and generate more animosity," Talat Masood, retired army general turned analyst said.

But the parliament is likely to demand the US halt operations such as the one that killed bin Laden.

"This review will make the cooperation more transactional and more transparent," a member of the parliamentary committee working on the deal said.

The source said parliament may also increase taxes on supplies passing through Pakistan into Afghanistan for the US and Nato-led forces.

The US already pays billions in aid to Pakistan for its military and logistical support.

"Pakistan will eventually reopen land routes for Nato," Mr Masood said. "Pakistan has co-operated with the United States throughout the war on terror and it looks very odd that it will create obstacles when it [the US] is planning to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan."

foreign.desk@thenational.com