ISLAMABAD, May 15: The Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC), the main decision-making body on country’s security policy, on Tuesday cleared the way for President Asif Ali Zardari to attend the coming Nato summit and gave its nod for the conclusion of an agreement for opening of ground supply routes, used for sustaining needs of coalition forces in Afghanistan, after de-linking the matter from demand for apology over the killing of 24 soldiers in last year’s border attack.

The stalemate over apology by the US, which had impeded progress in bilateral talks for re-engagement, has been left for further dialogue, along with negotiations on the parliamentary demand for cessation of drone attacks.

“The DCC welcomed the unconditional invitation by the Nato secretary general to the president of Pakistan to attend Nato summit in Chicago. The DCC fully endorsed the visit of the president for the summit,” said a statement issued after a meeting of the committee, chaired by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

It was attended by federal ministers for defence, interior, foreign affairs and information, the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, the three services chiefs and the director general of ISI. Before the start of the meeting, Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen telephoned President Zardari to invite him to the May 20-21 summit in Chicago. The invitation came a day after Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar indicated Pakistan’s willingness to reopen the suspended Nato routes by saying it was now time to move on.

President Zardari, according to his office, told Mr Rasmussen that he would consider the invitation in the light of the guidelines of parliament and the advice of the government.

Now with the formality of government endorsement fulfilled, the president is set to fly to Chicago for the summit.

Afghanistan will top the agenda of the summit, to be attended by 28 Nato heads of state and government, leaders from many of the 50 nations that make up the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) and countries providing supply routes to the trans-Atlantic politico-military alliance. The summit will also consider a long-term strategic partnership with Afghanistan for promoting security and stability there.

The government, fearful of isolation over Afghanistan and losing leverages in Afghan endgame, looked desperate to get an invitation to the summit, even though its media managers vehemently denying this impression.

President Zardari took special interest to see that the impasse in talks with Washington was addressed in time to secure the Chicago invitation.

Pakistan had suspended Nato supply routes following the Salala border attack on Nov 26 and ordered reassessment of terms of cooperation with the US and Nato by the parliament. The parliament sought apology over the incident, cessation of drone attacks, respect for Pakistan’s sovereignty and formalisation of cooperation pacts with the US, besides recommending restoration of the supply routes for non-lethal supplies and expulsion of foreign fighters who had taken refuge in Pakistani territory.

Demands for an end to unmanned predator drone strikes and apology became sticking points in the subsequent Pakistan-US negotiations.

However, technical groups from both sides continued discussions on new conditions for the ground supplies and are said to have already settled on a broad memorandum of understanding that would cover issues pertaining to costing, security of shipments, routes and type of goods to be transported.

“In keeping with the letter and spirit of the parliamentary committee’s recommendations, the DCC authorised officers of relevant ministries/departments to conclude the ongoing negotiation on the new terms and conditions for resumption of GLOCs (Ground Lines of Communications).

“The new terms and conditions should incorporate a clause, as recommended by parliament, to the effect that only non-lethal cargo will be allowed to transit through Pakistan to Afghanistan,” the DCC statement said.

The green signal from the DCC for concluding the agreement implies that the new pact on supply routes will be signed any time now.

Diplomatic sources say President Zardari will announce formal resumption of supplies at the Chicago summit.

Although it was evident that the government would not be able to keep the supply routes blocked for long, the course followed for reopening was essentially meant to minimise the chances of protest by hardliners opposed to supporting international efforts in Afghanistan.

The only news on divisive issues of apology and drones was that the Foreign Office had been asked to continue negotiations with the US.

“The committee further decided that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will continue to remain engaged with the government of the United States on other parliamentary recommendations, including the question of apology and cessation of drone attacks,” the statement released to the media said.

The DCC also discussed a recommendation for “expulsion of foreign fighters, if found, on the Pakistani side,” in addition to asking the military to settle fresh border ground rules with Nato/Isaf for preventing recurrence of Salala-like mishaps.

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