With reporting from Elise Labott
NATO has invited Pakistani President Asif Zardari to join the Afghanistan summit in Chicago this week, even as the Afghan neighbor continues to weigh whether to re-open its border crossings for war supplies.
Farhatullah Babar, a presidential spokesman, confirmed the invitation Tuesday, saying it was unconditional and was not linked to the opening of ground lines of communication for NATO or to any other issue. He said Zardari would consider the invitation in light of guidelines from Pakistan's parliament and the advice of the government.
The president said a decision about the invitation will be communicated to NATO later.
The invitation comes just days after NATO Secretary General Fogh Rasmussen suggested that the neighbor of Afghanistan would not be included because of the continued closure of Pakistan's border with Afghanistan to war supplies."Our transit routes through Pakistan are currently blocked. So we have to continue our dialogue with Pakistan, with a view to finding a solution to that, because that's really a matter of concern," Rasmussen said in a news conference Friday.
Pakistan's top military and civilian leaders met in Islamabad Tuesday evening but did not come up with a recommendation on lifting the blockade on Pakistan's two NATO supply routes.
"We have instructed all relevant departments and stakeholders to conclude their dialogue about this matter. We have laws and a parliament and we have to let this process take its course," said Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, who was part of Tuesday's meeting of the Defense Committee of the Cabinet.
Any new agreement would include a requirement that only non-lethal cargo be shipped through Pakistan into Afghanistan, officials say.
Talks to reopen the border have intensified ahead of the Chicago meetings. U.S. negotiators have been in Pakistan since late April, and just this past weekend, Gen. John Allen, who oversees all U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, and his Afghan counterpart were in Pakistan for discussions that included talks about the border situation.
Asked if the Pakistani government felt pressured by Washington and NATO to reopen the supply routes, Kaira said, "I am not concerned about pressure. I am only concerned about the process that must take place in parliament."
Pakistan's Cabinet is scheduled to meet Wednesday in Islamabad. Kaira said a decision is possible at that point.
Analysts described the NATO summit invitation as an incentive for Zardari to reopen the routes.
A senior official with the Obama administration stressed this is a NATO invitation and it is not clear if President Obama would meet with Zardari.
"It doesn't necessarily impact what we do with the Pakistanis" at the summit, the official said.
Pakistan was invited as a neighboring country of Afghanistan, as have other countries from the region.
"The whole meeting will underline the strong commitment of the international community to a stable future for Afghanistan, and Pakistan is an integral part of that," said Oana Lungescu, a NATO spokeswoman.
The meeting will include Afghan President Hamid Karzai, along with NATO allies and International Security Assistance Force contributors. There also will be representatives from Russia, Japan and key international organizations including the United Nations and European Union.