CHICAGO, May 22: Pakistan has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan, said US President Barack Obama after his two brief meetings with President Asif Ali Zardari on the sidelines of the Nato summit.
Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said his organisation invited Pakistan to the two-day summit because it was seeking “positive engagement with Pakistan”. He appreciated Pakistan’s commitment to Afghan peace and said he was hopeful about Pakistan reopening the Nato supply lines.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emphasised the need to rebuild “a strong and mutually beneficial” relationship with Pakistan, feelings reciprocated by President Zardari in all encounters with US and Nato leaders during his stay in Chicago.
President Obama told the summit’s concluding news briefing that he had told the Pakistani leader what “we have emphasised publicly as well as privately: We think that Pakistan has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan”.
Further outlining the US strategy for staying engaged with Pakistan, Mr Obama said: “It is in our national interest to see a Pakistan that is democratic, that is prosperous and that is stable.”
He pointed out that the two countries shared a common enemy in the extremists that were “found not only in Afghanistan, but also within Pakistan”.
The two countries, he said, also “need to work through some of the tensions that have inevitably arisen after 10 years of our military presence in that region”.
Secretary Clinton, who had a detailed meeting with President Zardari on the first day of the two-day summit, which ended on Monday evening, gave even a stronger message.
She told the Pakistani leader that the United States was “committed to a strong, mutually beneficial relationship built on concrete actions to enhance the security and prosperity of Pakistan, the United States, and the region”, said a statement issued by the State Department.
But the statement also underlined the differences that had strained relations between the two countries.
Secretary Clinton and President Zardari discussed “the importance of reopening the Nato supply lines; of taking joint action against the extremists who threaten Pakistan, the United States, and the region, including Al Qaeda and the Haqqani Network and of supporting Afghanistan’s security, stability, and efforts towards reconciliation”, said the State Department.
Although President Obama pointed out that his meeting with President Zardari was brief, it was long enough for the Pakistani leader to “share with me his belief that these issues can get worked through”.
A White House media pool report said that President Obama spoke with President Zardari twice on Tuesday. First, they had a brief one-to-one conversation as they made their way into the Isaf meeting. Later in the afternoon, President Obama had the chance to briefly speak with President Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, underscoring their shared commitment to an Afghan-led reconciliation process, the report said.
Strangely, President Karzai later told CNN that it was not a meeting but just a “three-way photograph taking ... a photo opportunity”.
The US president, however, spoke almost 500 words on this non-meeting, dispelling the impression that he expected Pakistan to announce the reopening of Nato supply routes during the summit.
“And I think ultimately everybody in the alliance, all of Isaf, and most importantly the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan understand that neither country is going to have the kind of security, stability, and prosperity that it needs unless they can resolve some of these outstanding issues and join in common purpose with the international community in making sure that these regions are not harbouring extremists,” he explained.
Mr Obama also expressed the desire to stay engaged with Pakistan despite the differences. “We’re going to keep on going at this. And I think every Nato member, every Isaf member is committed to that,” he said.
President Obama’s comments aptly describe Pakistan’s status in the Nato summit: a non-member, not even associated with Isaf, yet important enough to be invited to one of the most important Nato summits in recent history.
Pakistan came to Chicago as a country that blocked Nato supply routes six months ago after Nato planes killed 24 of its soldiers and is still refusing to reopen it. Yet, it was not only invited to the summit but also became the most talked about participant during the two-day conference.
The US media gave more space and time to Pakistan than any other participant, speculating whether Pakistan would or would not reopen the supply routes, was it still an ally or had now become an enemy.
Despite all these attentions, it was clear that election concerns prevented both the US and Pakistan from taking bold decisions during the conference.
Perhaps that’s why, at a post-summit briefing Pakistan’s Ambassador Sherry Rehman pointed out that Mr Zardari had proved his opponents wrong by not announcing the reopening of Nato supply routes.
“We did not come to Chicago with this intention,” she said. “We cannot ignore our national interests to win someone’s goodwill or to get good media coverage in the US.”