Pak civil, military leadership hold Pak-US talks

Islamabad: Pakistan`s top civil and military leadership today held a crucial meeting and discussed the country`s troubled relations with the US ahead of a key NATO summit in Chicago that is expected to make important decisions about the endgame in Afghanistan.

President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani chaired the meeting that was attended by army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and top federal secretaries.

The leadership discussed the regional security situation and reviewed Pakistan`s relations with the US and NATO in the light of recommendations framed by a joint sitting of Parliament for resetting the ties, state-run Radio Pakistan reported. The meeting assumes significance in view of the upcoming NATO Summit to be held in Chicago during May 20-21. Uncertainty persists about Pakistan`s participation in the summit that is expected to make important decisions about the way forward in Afghanistan.

Earlier in the day, Gilani held a separate meeting with the President and briefed him on his five-day official visit to Britain that concluded on Sunday. During an interaction with reporters on the sidelines of an official function, Gilani said Pakistan wants to settle all issues with the US and NATO "once and for all". The issue of reopening NATO supply routes, which were shut last year, will be resolved in the light of recommendations adopted by Parliament, Gilani said.

Pakistan closed the supply routes in November after a cross-border NATO air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Since then, the two countries have struggled to put their relationship on an even keel, largely due to Islamabad`s insistence on an apology for the NATO attack. The meeting of the top civil and military leadership came a day after military commanders of Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO held a meeting in Rawalpindi.

The Tripartite Commission "focussed on border control measures and mechanisms put in place to avoid untoward incidents" like the NATO air strike, the Pakistani military said. This was the first meeting of the Tripartite Commission in nearly a year and a statement issued by the International Security Assistance Force said the commanders of the three sides had discussed "issues of tactical, operational and strategic importance, including cross-border cooperation. The meeting also "set conditions for continued discussions in the future."

Pakistan`s top civil and military leadership will hold two more important meetings this week, the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, the highest decision-making body on security issues, will meet tomorrow while a meeting of the federal Cabinet will be chaired by Gilani on May 16.