Pakistan to reopen key supply route to Afghanistan, after US apology (+video)
'We are sorry,' Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said about a December attack near the Afghanistan border that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. That sticking point resolved, a key supply route will reopen, but US-Pakistan ties are weaker now.
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Pentagon officials estimate that the Pakistan land routes into Afghanistan carried about half of all supplies for the Afghan war effort, at about one-tenth the cost of air transport. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in congressional testimony in June that using costlier routes (the so-called northern route through Russia and Central Asian countries to Europe) and relying more on air transport was costing the US and its partners in Afghanistan $100 million a month.Skip to next paragraph
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Yet Mr. Obama – who had already angered the Pakistanis by stepping up drone strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban safe havens inside Pakistan, and especially over the successful raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound – refused to apologize for the outpost attack after an investigation revealed joint responsibility for the incident. The US military determined that the helicopter strikes came after Pakistani soldiers in the area first fired on US soldiers across the border in Afghanistan.
Both sides had predicted the dispute would be resolved and the borders would reopen to NATO when Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari met with Obama on the sidelines of NATO’s summit in Chicago in May. But weeks of negotiations had come down to the matter of an apology, and a deal fell through when both sides refused to blink.
Pakistan had also infuriated the White House with its demand that any reopening of the border come at the price of hugely higher transit fees. At one point in negotiations, Pakistan was demanding that an average per-truck cost of $250 for crossing the border jump to $5,000.
But Clinton said in her statement that Pakistan’s foreign minister, Hinna Rabbani Khar, informed her in a Tuesday morning phone call that Pakistan would charge no transit fee “in the larger interest of peace and security in Afghanistan and the region.”
Clinton also said in her statement that by charging no transit fee, Pakistan “will also help the United States and [international forces in Afghanistan] conduct the planned drawdown at a much lower cost.”
In a separate statement Tuesday, the Pakistani ambassador to Washington, Sherry Rehman, said, “I am glad that this breakthrough is not part of any transaction. We are playing our role as responsible global partner in stabilizing the region.”
Ambassador Rehman added that she hoped the border transport accord would mean that “bilateral ties can move to a better place from here.”
But Ms. Curtis of Heritage says better ties are unlikely because the US and Pakistan will continue to have conflicting goals in Afghanistan.
“The reality is that the US and Pakistan are striving for different outcomes in Afghanistan,” Curtis says. Citing Clinton’s statement in which she calls the restoration of the supply routes a “tangible demonstration of Pakistan’s support for a secure, peaceful, and prosperous Afghanistan and our shared objectives in the region,” Curtis says, “This is simply not true.”
“The tensions between the US and Pakistan will persist," Curtis says, "... until Pakistan aligns its goals more closely with those of the US and NATO in Afghanistan and confronts the Taliban and Haqqani networks inside Pakistan.”
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