Pakistan reopens NATO supply route after US apology
Pakistan has reopened NATO's supply routes into Afghanistan, more than seven months after they were shut down following the deaths of 24 Pakistanis in a clash with US soldiers at the border between Afghanistan's Kunar province and Pakistan's Mohmand tribal agency. Twenty-four Pakistani troops were killed after they opened fire on US and Afghan troops operating in Kunar. From The Los Angeles Times:
Pakistani leaders on Tuesday ended a seven-month blockade on Afghanistan-bound NATO supply routes through their country, a long-awaited move that hinged on Washington's acquiescence to Islamabad's demand for an apology for the deaths of two dozen Pakistani soldiers killed by errant U.S. airstrikes last fall.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she had called her Pakistani counterpart, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, on Tuesday and issued an apology for the soldiers' deaths: "We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again."
Both parties are claiming that the US will not have to pay an additional fee to transport supplies. Time will tell if the US has paid off Pakistan in other ways. Again, from The Los Angeles Times:
Another major sticking point in negotiations was Pakistan's demand for a step-up in fees NATO would pay for using Pakistan as a transit conduit for supply convoys. NATO had been paying about $250 per truck, and at one point Pakistan was insisting on raising the cost to $5,000 per truck. U.S. officials had called the proposed increase unrealistic.
Clinton said Khar told her that Pakistan had decided to reopen the supply routes, and had decided not to charge any transit fee. However, it remained unclear whether Pakistan still planned to demand other financial charges or tolls.
The Pakistan supply lines are key for the US and NATO to remove heavy equipment from Afghanistan as it begins the massive drawdown. The US has established a northern supply corridor (called the Northern Distribution Network, see LWJ report, Analysis: The US-Pakistan relationship and the critical factor of supply) through Russia and former Soviet satellite nations, but the cost of moving the supplies via that route has been three to five times more than that of the Pakistan route.
The International Security Assistance Force is pleased the supply lines through Pakistan have been reopened and hailed Pakistan's decision as growing cooperation between "two countries" (it is unclear which two countries ISAF is referring to; General Allen leads ISAF, an international coalition, and is also a US military commander).
"These continuing discussions underscore the importance of working together on the challenges facing our two countries in the days, months, and years to come. I look forward to future opportunities to work together toward our common goals, by taking coordinated action against terrorists," [ISAF Commanding General John] Allen said. The two commanders also discussed the growing value of the relationship and the tactical and operational efforts and measures being taken to defeat the terrorists that threaten the region.