LAHORE: Pakistan wants to rebuild its ties with the United States despite ongoing retaliation over deadly Nato air strikes on its troops along the Afghan border, the country’s prime minister said on Monday, stressing that he believes “it won’t take long” to achieve a new relationship with its uneasy ally.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s remarks indicate that Pakistan is looking for a way to restore some normalcy to ties with Washington following the November 26 air strikes by the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, but wants to leverage the situation to try and reset the relationship in ways more beneficial to Pakistan.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Gilani also said the country remained committed to working with Afghanistan to bring insurgent leaders – many of whom are believed to be on Pakistani soil and to enjoy close relations with Islamabad’s security forces – into talks with the government and allow the US to begin withdrawing its troops as it is committed to doing.
“I think we have evolved some mechanisms, and we are ready to cooperate,” he said, referring to meetings with Afghanistan’s military and intelligence chiefs on a framework for talks. “We are committed (to reconciliation), despite that we are not attending” the conference on Afghanistan, he said.
That may offer some reassurance to international leaders meeting in Bonn, Germany, to discuss the future of Afghanistan.
Islamabad boycotted the talks because of the air strikes along the Pakistan-Afghan border that killed 24 Pakistani troops. The decision disappointed Afghan and Western leaders, who realize the vital role Pakistan has in any future stability in neighbouring Afghanistan even as they complain that it tolerates, or even supports, insurgents along the border.
Pakistan refused pleas by Afghan and US leaders to attend the Bonn conference. Gilani said he did not regret skipping the meeting, saying “since the soil of Afghanistan was used against Pakistan in the Nato raids, there was a tremendous protest in my country and people were putting pressure that we not attend.”
Speaking in Germany, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers tragic and reiterated a pledge for a thorough investigation. “No one is more interested than the United States in getting to the bottom of what happened in the border incident,” she said.
President Barack Obama called Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Sunday to offer his condolences. No one from either Nato or the US has formally apologised, but they have disputed comments by Pakistan’s army that the act was a deliberate act of aggression.
Gilani said new ties being negotiated with the US would ensure that the two countries “respected each other’s red lines” regarding sovereignty and rules of engagement along the border. While he gave few details, he made it clear he thought this was both desirable and possible.
“We really want to have good relations with the US based on mutual respect and clearly defined parameters,” he said in an interview at his residence. “I think that is doable. I think that it won’t take long.”
Washington and Islamabad have given differing accounts of what led to the air strikes on the Pakistan army posts last month, in what is at least the third such incident along the porous and poorly defined border since 2008.
US officials have said the incident occurred when a joint US and Afghan patrol requested air support after coming under fire. The US checked with the Pakistan military to see if there were friendly troops in the area and were told there were not, they said.
Pakistan has said the coordinates given by the Americans were wrong — an allegation denied by US defence officials.