Pak set to take decision on NATO routes

Islamabad: Pakistan is inching towards a decision on reopening NATO supply routes, which were closed following a cross-border air strike in November, though it is expected to impose "tough conditions" like a hefty transit fee for the movement of container trucks and oil tankers.

The issue of allowing the US and its allies to resume using Pakistani routes for transporting supplies to foreign troops in Afghanistan figured at a meeting of leaders of the ruling coalition and top military officials, including army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, that was chaired by President Asif Zardari on Wednesday.

The civil and military leadership evolved consensus on lifting the nearly four-month-old blockade later this month but "tough conditions" are expected to be imposed by Pakistan, The Express Tribune newspaper quoted its sources as saying.

"There was a general consensus among the participants that we now have to reopen the NATO supply routes," an unnamed official told the daily.

"For once, we have conveyed our principled position to the US regarding our red lines and we believe that it is very well-received in Washington," the official added.

Few details have emerged of the conditions Pakistan is expected to impose for allowing the US and its allies to transport supplies through its territory. However, the government is expected to levy a hefty transit fee for NATO container trucks and tankers.

Islamabad closed the supply routes in protest against a cross-border NATO air strike in Mohmand tribal region that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

The US said the attack was unintentional but this explanation was rejected by the Pakistani military. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani subsequently ordered a Parliamentary review of Pakistan-US ties.

The supply routes are expected to be reopened after a joint session of both houses of Parliament approves new "terms of engagement" for the US and NATO later this month.

A Parliamentary panel`s recommendations for resetting ties with the US are expected to be discussed by the Senate and National Assembly sometime next week.

Wednesday`s meeting at the presidency, which was also attended by Gilani, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha and Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jillani, was briefed on foreign policy and security-related issues, an official statement said.

The meeting also reviewed the Parliamentary Committee on National Security`s recommendations for new terms of engagement with the US. This was the first time the civil and military leadership jointly discussed the draft proposals.

The US has privately expressed its "frustration" over the delay in the parliamentary review as alternative routes for NATO supplies are costlier than the land routes offered by Pakistan, The Express Tribune reported.

Key US officials, including Central Command chief Gen James Mattis and Special Envoy Marc Grossman, are expected to travel to Pakistan once the parliamentary review is completed.

Islamabad had recently turned down a request from Grossman to visit the country, saying such a trip would not be productive till the review is completed. Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said a decision on reopening the NATO supply routes would be taken by Parliament.

Ahead of the joint session of Parliament, the government will also take into confidence opposition parties, including the PML-N led by former premier Nawaz Sharif, on the issue of reopening the supply routes.