US-Pak talks deadlocked over drones and US apology


ISLAMABAD: After a five-month impasse, Pakistan and the United States resumed formal talks on Thursday as Washington’s point man on Pakistan and Afghanistan arrived amid efforts to mend fractured relations.

However, the two sides appeared to have made little headway on some of the key stumbling blocks preventing full resumption of bilateral ties.

Marc Grossman, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, held talks with senior Pakistani civil and military officials on Thursday during his first visit to the country since a parliamentary review was ordered in the wake of the air strike.

Grossman held formal talks with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, who was assisted by Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani and other senior officials.

The US envoy also held a crucial meeting with army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in Rawalpindi as part of efforts to repair damaged ties due to last year’s Nato air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Apparent deadlock

The logjam was made even more apparent at a joint news conference addressed by Marc Grossman and Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani.

“We consider drones as illegal, non-productive and accordingly unacceptable,” Jilani told reporters.

“This is an issue which also has been discussed at the highest civilian and military leadership,” he said, adding that Pakistan expected talks with US officials to lead to a solution under the guidelines set by parliament.

Meanwhile, even though Grossman offered condolences for the Nato airstrikes, he stopped short of an apology, and on the drone issue said both Pakistan and the US faced threats from al Qaeda and other extremist groups.

“Efforts will be made that such incidents do not happen in the future as both Pakistan and the United States are partners in the war against terror and they have common enemy and need common strategy to fight this menace,” Grossman said. But the Obama administration has so far showed no signs of compromising its CIA-piloted drone campaign in the tribal regions.

A foreign office official, requesting anonymity, told The Express Tribune that the two sides had a ‘candid and frank discussion’ but deadlock persisted over a US public apology for the Nato airstrikes and drone attacks inside the country’s tribal belt.

Nato routes

The two sides also discussed the possibility of resuming Nato supply lines suspended since the Salala incident.

Grossman said the US was ready for talks on re-opening the supply lines and clearing outstanding payments to Pakistan to meet the expenses of military operations in its tribal areas to fight Taliban and al Qaeda militants.

“We are ready to get to the work. We want to work to reopen the ground lines of communication. We want to discuss several outstanding claims for the coalition support fund (CSF),” Grossman said.

Grossman said the United Stated wanted to increase market access and economic opportunity and wanted a stable Pakistan and Afghanistan.

However, Jilani said a new arrangement would need to be worked out.

“We have to work out new arrangements as and when we get direction from the cabinet.”

Grossman will be in Islamabad until today (Friday) and is due to meet other civilian leaders, including President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in an effort to break the stalemate. He will also participate in a trilateral meeting between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US on the Afghan reconciliation process.

The Express Tribune