President Asif Ali Zardari said Pakistan is seeking to restore ties with the U.S. as Pakistani lawmakers prepare to seek consensus on the relationship after tensions over the conflict in Afghanistan.
“Pakistan-U.S. relations are multidimensional and important” and they should be based on mutual respect, Zardari told lawmakers during his annual address to a joint sitting of parliament in Islamabad yesterday. Pakistan wants to “engage meaningfully with the U.S.,” he said.
A parliamentary committee on national defense is reviewing Pakistan’s ties with the U.S. after American helicopters attacked two Pakistani border posts on Nov. 26, killing 24 soldiers. In protest, Pakistan closed its border to the resupply of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and suspended much military and intelligence cooperation.
Pakistan’s Parliament will begin debating recommendations on the country’s ties with the U.S as early as tomorrow, and lawmakers will have an opportunity to debate and amend the proposals. The nation is expected to share the review with the U.S. by the end of this month, according to Pakistani and U.S. government officials.
“I don’t think Pakistan can afford a complete breakdown in ties” with the U.S., said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, an independent political and military analyst in Lahore. “They will try to set new conditions for the transit facilities for NATO forces before opening the land routes, and seek some guarantees that the country’s sovereignty will be respected.”
The U.S. needs Pakistan’s help as President Barack Obama withdraws troops from neighboring Afghanistan and negotiates peace terms with the Taliban and other militant groups after a decade-long conflict.
Pakistan’s main opposition, led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and religious parties, boycotted Zardari’s speech to protest his handling of the economy and corruption charges against him.
The government is struggling to revive growth as inflation reaches 11 percent, factories close due to a power deficit and conflict with the Taliban and al-Qaeda militants continues. The economy is still expected to grow by 4 percent in the year through June, up from a 2.4 percent pace last year, Zardari said.
Zardari and his government, headed by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, have been assailed by the army and the nation’s Supreme Court over issues including a memo sent to U.S. military chiefs seeking help to prevent a coup, as well as Gilani’s refusal to abide by court rulings that he pursue corruption cases against Zardari in Switzerland.
The top court will next meet over the graft probe on March 21. Gilani could be sentenced to six months in jail and disqualified from holding the National Assembly seat he needs to remain as premier if he’s found guilty of contempt.
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