By Ali Imran
CHICAGO, May 19 : President Asif Ali Zardari began a three-day visit to Chicago, during which he will attend the NATO summit and meet with world leaders on bilateral and regional issues, particularly solution to the Afghan war.
A meeting is being scheduled between President Zardari and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who had extended an unconditional invitation to Pakistan for the summit.
Ahead of President Zardari’ s arrival in the third largest American city, NATO chief sought Pakistan’s positive role toward the goal of a stable Afghanistan.
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani are part of the delegation and will assist the President during the summit.
Currently, Pakistan and the United States are debating details of a possible agreement that would allow resumption of NATO supplies through Pakistani roads into landlocked Afghanistan
The bilateral engagements on the margins of the May 20-21 summit, scheduled so far, also include President Zardari’s meetings with President of Turkey Abdullah Gul, President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
President Zardari will brief world leaders about Islamabad’s position on peace and security efforts in the region and the way out of lingering Afghan conflict. Pakistan advocates a political solution to the Afghan conflict.
The US-led NATO sees Pakistan as vital to successful outcome of the Afghan war since it relies on Pakistani counterterrorism cooperation along the Afghan border and also uses the South Asian country’s routes for transportation of supplies into landlocked Afghanistan.
Pakistan closed the NATO supply routes after the deadly US war planes strikes on Salala border posts November last year that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, plunging the bilateral relations into a crisis.
The two sides have been negotiating new terms of engagement including an agreement on restoration of supply lines for several weeks.
On the eve of the summit, Ambassador Sherry Rehman spelled out Islamabad’s position on various issues including the November 26, 2011 cross-border strikes. She told CNN in an interview that Pakistan has always had a role in the region and the alliance’s summit presented an opportunity to redefine it.
“This unconditional invitation to Pakistan is a very positive development. We don’t want interference in Afghanistan, but want to support peaceful security transition, which can also bring stability in Pakistan”, she said.
Meanwhile, according to American and NATO officials, the future of Afghanistan will be a centerpiece of the Sunday-Monday NATO Summit in the backdrop of concern that some of the countries in NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan are not enthused about being part of a major commitment beyond 2014, when NATO ends its combat role and transfer full security responsibility to Kabul
Officials estimate that it will cost $4.1 billion annually to sustain the Afghan Security Force of 350,000 beyond year 2014. The U.S. is looking for pledges from allies to come up with about $1.3 billion each year; the Afghan government would throw in $500 million and the U.S. would pay the rest
“That was a serious mistake and we will not repeat that mistake. We can’t afford to repeat that mistake.” he added, while pressing allies to contribute to the effort.
Leaders of around 60 countries and organizations will attend the NATO summit in President Barack Obama’s hometown.
Meanwhile, protests over several issues are expected near the site of the NATO summit here this weekend.
Sources: MGCT, NATO, Pakistan Embassy
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