Asia

Pakistan's 'tough line' after Chicago

US President Barack Obama (L) speaking with President Hamid Karzai (C) of Afghanistan, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari at the McCormick Place Convention Center during the NATO Summit in Chicago on May 21, 2012.
Image caption Mr Obama (L) met Mr Karzai (C) but, pointedly, not Mr Zardari (R)

The lukewarm attitude exhibited by US President Barack Obama and other US officials in Chicago seems likely to make Pakistan's leadership harden its position on the reopening of Nato supply routes to Afghanistan.

The last-minute invitation extended to President Asif Ali Zardari to join the Nato summit was a sign of hope that the rift had healed after a US air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border last year.

But it seems that Mr Zardari's participation had the opposite effect to what both sides had hoped for and Mr Obama's dealings with the Pakistani leader are being seen as a snub.

Mr Zardari came to the US president's hometown expecting a separate meeting, such as the one accorded to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

But without a final deal to reopen the supply lines, no such meeting was to occur.

A speech by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the president's son and chairman of the ruling Pakistan People's Party, in New York on 21 May suggests that reopening the routes could take some time.

US anger

Pakistan's refusal to reopen the supply routes left a diplomatic blot on a summit that Nato had sought to cast as the beginning of the end of the conflict in Afghanistan.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionBarack Obama: "It is in Pakistan's interests to work with us and the global community"

According to media reports, US officials made it clear they were furious over Pakistan's continued refusal to reopen ground routes used to move fuel and other war supplies into Afghanistan, a six-month standoff that the White House had hoped to resolve before President Obama arrived in Chicago.

Mr Obama's irritation at the impasse was clear on the last day of the summit when he addressed more than 50 world leaders and publicly thanked Russia and the Central Asian nations "that continue to provide critical transit" of war supplies into Afghanistan.

President Zardari sat only a few feet away, but President Obama pointedly did not mention Pakistan.

Pakistan closed the main Nato supply route after US air strikes hit two border posts at Salala on 26 November 2011, killing 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Islamabad is demanding more than $5,000 (£3,200) per truck, up from its previous rate of $250, to let supplies flow again.

Even before the Chicago summit, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta ruled out paying Pakistan $5,000 for each truck carrying supplies.

Correspondents say US leaders are unhappy about the fee, given that the US is already giving Pakistan large amounts of aid.

'Policy failure'

In an apparent damage control effort, Pakistani officials tried to play down any snub.

Image caption The question of the Pakistani supply route has cast a shadow over the summit

"There was really no expectation from our side that the US president would appreciate and admire the suspension of the Nato supply lines," President Zardari's spokesman Farhatullah Babar told reporters.

But Pakistan's opposition parties spotted an opportunity to criticise the government for what they described as a foreign policy failure.

"Foreign Policy Collapse," tweeted Khurram Dastgir Khan, a leader of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League, referring to "a failed strategy".

The chances of re-opening the Nato supply route had seemed bright a few days ahead of the Chicago summit when Pakistan officials were openly talking about a new chapter in the Pakistan-US relationship.

"Pakistan has made its point by blocking Nato's supply line to Afghanistan in protest over a deadly American attack on its troops, and now must try to rebuild relations with the West," Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar had said.

Pakistan's demands

But now it seems that Pakistan has hardened its position and brought an apology for the Salala killings and the cessation of drone attacks back to the negotiating table.

This has not been communicated through any official statement, yet a speech by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari at a political gathering in New York on 21 May and the level of coverage given to the event on Pakistan's state media make it seem official.

Addressing party activists in New York, the president's son urged President Obama to show "some courage" and apologise to Pakistan for the deadly air strike and bring US-Pakistan relations back on track.

The event was given extensive coverage on Pakistan Television, the state broadcaster.

Pakistan's financial managers were blamed for adopting a soft approach toward the US in bilateral talks held ahead of Chicago summit as, it was said, they needed money from the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) for the forthcoming budget.

Now it seems that they are not depending on the release of CSF money to reduce the fiscal deficit in the 2012-13 budget.

Dawn newspaper reported on Tuesday that the country's financial managers had revised the federal receipts significantly due to uncertainty over the CSF payments by the US.

In such circumstances, Pakistan's civilian leadership will not be in a hurry to take the politically damaging step of reopening Nato supplies ahead of forthcoming general elections.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.