ISLAMABAD: Furious over the pre-dawn Nato attacks on border posts, the government on Saturday reacted sharply by indefinitely closing down supply routes used by western forces in Afghanistan and once again asking the United States to vacate an airbase previously used for drone operations. The government also said it would carry out a thorough review of its cooperation with the US and Nato.
The retaliatory decisions were taken at an emergency meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC), the country’s highest forum for defence policy consultation and coordination. The meeting was convened to discuss the Nato air strikes and make strategies for a response.
“The DCC decided to close, with immediate effect, the Nato/Isaf logistics supply lines. It also decided to ask the US to vacate the Shamsi airbase within 15 days. The DCC decided that the government will revisit and undertake a complete review of all programmes, activities and cooperative arrangements with US/Nato/Isaf, including diplomatic, political, military and intelligence,” said a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office after the meeting.
The decisions, though sounding tough, apparently kept the window for negotiations open.
It was originally proposed to unilaterally terminate the Nato supply route, but ultimately the DCC settled for keeping it indefinitely closed even as it had been squelched soon after the incident and the decision by the country’s top civilian and military leadership appeared as a formal closure announcement.
The supply route remained closed for 11 days last year after Nato choppers intruded into Pakistani airspace and fired at a paramilitary force, killing two soldiers. The issue was resolved after apologies from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Nato leaders.
About 40 per cent of Nato’s non-lethal supplies are transported through Pakistan using Chaman and Torkham border crossings -- the preferred routes for being economical.
Nato has developed an alternative northern route through central Asian states as a contingency for a situation where the Pakistani route is choked.
It was for the third time this year that the US has been asked to vacate the Shamsi airbase, 300kms southwest of Quetta. But this time it has been given a 15-day ultimatum for leaving the airfield, which is under the United Arab Emirates’ control.
The two previous occasions when similar demands were made from the US were after the CIA operative Raymond Davis episode and then in the aftermath of Osama bin Laden denouement. Drone operations from the base were believed to have ceased in April and the facility is now supposedly being used for logistic purposes.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will brief parliament on how the government intends to conduct its rocky relations with Washington in the future.
The attack is likely to cause yet another dent in Pakistan-US ties that were still recovering from strains following the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad.
Islamabad is also likely to reduce its cooperation for a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. According to a source, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar may cancel her trip to Bonn for a conference on Afghanistan and the country may be represented there at a lower level. A final decision may depend on how Washington moves to prevent the frayed ties from taking yet another slide.
PM, FM MEET PRESIDENT: President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani met at the presidency before the DCC meeting to take stock of the situation and discuss response options.
The president, according to a presidency official, told Mr Gilani and Ms Khar that the strike constituted an attack on sovereignty, was totally unacceptable and merited a forceful response.
Earlier, US Ambassador Cameron Munter was summoned to the Foreign Office over the attack. Spokesperson Tehmina Janjua said Ambassador Munter was called, on the instructions of the prime minister, to see Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir.
Mr Bashir told the ambassador that the “unprovoked attack by Nato/Isaf aircraft … deeply incensed the government and the people of Pakistan”. Ambassador Munter was further told that the Pakistani leadership believed that the “attacks are totally unacceptable, constitute a grave infringement of Pakistan’s sovereignty, are violative of international law and a serious transgression of the oft-conveyed red lines and could have serious repercussions on Pakistan-US/Nato/Isaf cooperation”.
The American envoy regretted the incident and said Washington would work with Pakistani authorities in investigating the matter.
Protests were also lodged with the State Department in Washington and Nato Headquarters in Brussels.
The Chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security, Senator Raza Rabbani, asked the government to take up the issue at all appropriate forums with full force and sought an effective strategy to deal with any such happenings in future.