ISLAMABAD – An eleventh hour intervention by President Asif Ali Zardari on Wednesday prompted the visiting US negotiating team to extend its stay, ostensibly to finalise the outlines of the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) the PPP leadership wants to be signed next month.

Well-placed sources told The Nation that President Zardari requested the US team, led by Senior Director for Investment Affairs and Financial Services Kimberley Claman, to extend their stay as he wants that the first ever BIT with the United States be signed during his visit to USA next month.

The visiting US team, which met with President Zardari today on emergency basis, put off its plan to leave Pakistan with the hope that Islamabad may offer the concessions desired by the United States.

The PPP leadership has buoyant to open up Pakistani soil to US investors after Washington signaled to compensate Pakistan for resumption of NATO supplies and for economic losses the Islamic Republic had in the course of US-led international war against terror.

Senior government official privy to US-Pakistan talks on BIT believed that negotiations were stalled because US team was seeking extraordinary concessions which Islamabad was reluctant to offer for various reasons including the issues related to national security of the country. Sources were of the view that Pakistani legal experts have advised the government to refrain from signing this treaty with the United States in haste and without a national debate as it would have far reaching implications for the country.

In a related development, a senior US official in background briefing to a select group of Pakistani journalists, dismissed the criticism that US was either seeking extra ordinary concession from Pakistan that led to stall the talks.

He said that the team was in Islamabad to conclude talks without giving clear answer to inquisitive Pakistani journalists that Islamabad and Washington could sign the proposed BIT next month during the visit of President Zardari to the United States.

“It will be unfair to jump to such a conclusion. Neither the talks were on hold nor the US negotiators were facing any major impediments”, the US official said.

The US official pointed out that US was struggling to secure the BIT with Pakistan with a holistic approach that aims to boosts $5 billion annual two way trade between the two countries.

The US official was of the view that the treaty would provide independence to the American investors to appoint the Board of Governors of their companies in Pakistan independent of any restrictions.

The US official made these observations in response to queries with reference to sensitive agencies’ No Objection Certificate (NOC) required for persons to be appointed as members of foreign companies’ BoGs.

“In general terms, under the treaty, there would be no restriction on any country’s national to be members of an American investor’s BoG,” the officials said, adding foreign investors would independently make appointments of respective BoGs. Asked which sectors the US team was seek to include for US investment, the official said it was too early to say but the agreement would cover entire of the services and manufacturing sectors.

The US official said that both sides have achieved significant progress during the talks but admitted that there still some issues which needed to be sorted out to finalize the draft treaty. 

“There are pre-publication obligations and publication obligations in the treaty draft,” the official said. “But we cannot get into the specific substance of the draft agreement.”