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DCC, cabinet meetings on May 15, 16

ISLAMABAD- As the government decided to convene back-to-back meetings of the country`s highest defence policy coordination forum -Defence Committee of the Cabinet and the federal cabinet next week, it was more than clear that the moment of decision in ties with the United States, which have been in an indeterminate state since the Nov 26 Salala incident, has finally arrived.

Halfway through his trip to the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani directed his secretariat back home to make arrangements for meetings of the DCC and the federal cabinet on May 15 and 16 respectively.

At the two meetings, the civil and military leadership will decide on how to go ahead with resumption of normal relations with Washington, including the reopening of Nato supply routes.

But the chief questionbefore the leadership will be whether or not President Asif Ali Zardari should attend the upcoming Nato summit in Chicago, especially after the belligerent statements made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit to India that in effect questioned Pakistan`s sincerity in the fight against terrorism.

The parliamentary process for recommending new terms of engagement with the US in the aftermath of the border incident in which 24 troops were killed was completed last month, but the government has clearly struggled to take a final decision on reengagement. Its dilemma got compounded with the American refusal to apologise and discuss the recommendation for cessation of drone attacks.

Background interviews with senior government functionaries revealed that although the chances of Mr Zardari`s trip to Chicago werebleak, an attempt would be made to salvage it in view of the importance the political leadership attached to relations with Washington.

While threats of sanctions, renewed allegations about Al Qaeda chief Ayman Al Zawahiri`s presence in Pakistan and reports that the US was coming up with `evidence` that the attackers who carried out the April 24 attacks in Kabul had travelled from Pakistan do not give an optimistic reading of the situation, government aides say behind-the-scene technical Pakistan-US talks were in progress and the rough patch in relationship would soon be overcome.

Brains in Islamabad are also working on a proposal for sending a special emissary to the US in case the stalemate in ties persists even after next week`s meetings. This is because the government does not want a repeat of the mishandling of the apology that was offered to it in February.

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