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NATO Invites Pakistan To Chicago Summit

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has invited Pakistan to attend a summit in Chicago this weekend to discuss the future of Afghanistan despite earlier threats to leave Islamabad out of the proceedings if its blockade on the Alliance's supply routes was not lifted.

"Allies decided to invite President (Asif Ali) Zardari of Pakistan to Chicago to the meeting on Afghanistan, which will include ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) contributor nations, as well as Japan, Russia, other countries from the region and international organizations," NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said in a statement on Tuesday.

"This meeting will underline the strong commitment of the international community to the people of Afghanistan and to its future. Pakistan has an important role to play in that future," Lungescu added.

Incidentally, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen had suggested on Friday last that Pakistan may not be invited to the Chicago summit if it fails to reopen the NATO supply routs it had closed in protest against the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a cross-border air attack carried out by the Western Alliance from Afghanistan in November.

Islamabad's blockade had left thousands of NATO supply trucks stranded in Pakistan, which had demanded a formal "unconditional apology" from the United States for the deadly air strike in exchange for opening the supply routes.

Islamabad also called for an immediate end to U.S. drone strikes on militant targets in Pakistan, insisting that those attacks were counter-productive as they end up killing civilians along with the targeted militants. Further, Pakistan had boycotted the last international summit on Afghanistan held in the German city of Bonn in December over the same issue.

Rasmussen had noted in his Friday remarks that nations that are currently providing supply routes to Afghanistan have been invited to the Chicago summit, which is expected to chart out the future of Afghanistan after the international coalition troops leave the war-torn South Asian country by the end of 2014 as planned.

The latest development comes after Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar hinted on Monday that Islamabad may lift the blockade as it has already severed its intended objective of making clear Pakistan's strong objections to NATO air strikes inside its territory.

Noting that the Pakistani Parliament has recommended new terms of engagement with the NATO, Khar said the blockade had clearly conveyed Pakistan's strong stand on such cross-border attacks to the Western Alliance.

"Pakistan's strategic objectives in the region, and the stated objectives of the West... that of peace and stability for Afghanistan... are exactly the same. They are identical," she said.

"So we want to continue to be a facilitator and an enabler and not a blocker. And this is what Pakistan has tried to achieve," Khar said, adding that both sides now needed to "move on" after Pakistan has "made a point" in response to the deaths of its soldiers in the cross-border attack.

Pakistan's civilian and military leaders are expected to meet soon to discuss reopening of the NATO supply routes. Further, Pakistani officials said late on Tuesday that President Asif Ali Zardari was likely to attend the Chicago summit, but warned that the country's participation in the meeting would not guarantee an agreement on Islamabad reopening the NATO supply routes.

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