Pakistan parliament set to take up U.S.-Pakistan ties

ISLAMABAD Sat Mar 17, 2012 12:26pm EDT

Supporters of Shabab-e-Milli, the youth wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami party burn the U.S. flag during an anti-American demonstration in Karachi on March 16, 2012. REUTERS/Athar Hussain

Supporters of Shabab-e-Milli, the youth wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami party burn the U.S. flag during an anti-American demonstration in Karachi on March 16, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Athar Hussain

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ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's parliament is set to finally reveal new terms of engagement with the United States next week, almost five months after a cross-border skirmish with NATO forces that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead and ties at their lowest in years.

The new terms will likely include the re-opening of supply lines to U.S.-led NATO troops in Afghanistan, closed since November 26, but with many new qualifications and restrictions, a prominent opposition lawmaker told Reuters on Saturday.

"Broadly, all the parties agree on this," said Ayaz Amir, an opposition member of the National Assembly who sits on its foreign affairs and defense committees. "I don't think anyone is in favor of permanently blocking off NATO routes. There will be riders, qualifications, and the military will have a heavy input in this."

Pakistan has been directly ruled by its military for more than half of its 64-year history and indirectly for much of the rest. It largely controls foreign and security policies, and has taken the lead in relations with the United States.

"All of this, the break in relations, the army viewpoint is coloring Pakistan's response," said Amir, a member of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) faction headed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Relations with the United States reached a crisis point after the November incident in which NATO aircraft killed 24 Pakistani troops. Pakistan shut down NATO supply routes into Afghanistan and demanded an apology.

The United States expressed regret for the loss of life and accepted the bulk of the blame, but has not apologized.

Amir spoke to Reuters just before Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari was scheduled to address the opening of a joint session of parliament, the fifth time he has done so. That is more than any previous civilian president of the unstable, nuclear-armed South Asian nation.

Zardari could be the first civilian president to serve a full five-year term, having so far weathered numerous political crises and showdowns with both the military and the Supreme Court.

Still, if he addresses U.S.-Pakistan ties at all, he is likely to issue only already widely-accepted recommendations to parliament, given that the national security committee has been working on the new terms for months with heavy input from the military.

The recommendations are almost certain to be accepted by the parliament when they are finally issued later this week.

"Regardless of the opposition these recommendations face when they are presented before parliament, the government has a majority and will not face difficulties affirming them," Amir said.

"I think it should be done within a week, that's my expectation."

But Zardari is hugely unpopular in Pakistan, accused of corruption and mismanagement, and opposition politicians have pledged a rowdy welcome to Zardari, a Pakistani daily newspaper reported. A symbolic walkout near the end of the speech is expected.

(Writing by Chris Allbritton, Editing by Jonathan; Thatcher)

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