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Why Pakistan still hasn't reopened NATO supply lines

The government of Pakistan is facing domestic political pressure to keep NATO's supply routes to Afghanistan closed, while the US resists apologizing or paying a high per truck fee.

By Correspondent / May 20, 2012



Islamabad, Pakistan

After receiving a last-minute invite to today's NATO summit in Chicago, Pakistan still has not come to a deal with the US to reopen supply lines for the Afghan war. 

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"We are close to a solution, but still have some way to go," says Fawad Chaudhury, the spokesperson for Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

The closed route has been a bone of contention between the US and Pakistan ever since NATO forces attacked two military checkpoints in Salala, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, killing 24 Pakistani soldiers and injuring an additional 13. In response to the attack, the Pakistanis shut down the supply routes running through their territory, forcing NATO to use air transport and ground routes through Central Asia instead.

In the run-up to today's Chicago summit, the Pakistani government has faced countervailing pressures, with NATO and Washington pushing Pakistan to reopen the supply lines, and domestic opposition parties pushing to keep them closed. A gradual democratization of Pakistan's foreign policy – once the preserve of the military – has added many voices across the political spectrum into the debate over the NATO supply routes.

Parliament wants its say

On April 12 the Pakistani parliament passed a 14-point resolution in response to the Salala checkpoint attacks. The resolution condemns the attacks, and includes demands for an unconditional apology from the US, an immediate cessation of drone attacks, and a stop to all transport of arms and ammunition through Pakistan. 

The foreign policy review process was an attempt by the parliament to regain control over the country's foreign policy, which has historically been set by the country's military. It was passed after several months debate, and under a broad coalition of parties across the political spectrum.

“We need to make sure that we follow the recommendations of the parliament in our negotiations with the US. I am hopeful that we can come to a mutually satisfying agreement,” says Mr. Chaudhury.

US not budging on apology

The US, however, does not seem to be budging on the question of an apology. “We have expressed our deepest condolences on this event, and are working hard to ensure that this event does not happen again,” says the spokesperson for the US State Department in Islamabad, Mark Stroh. 

The unlikelihood that some of the core demands of the resolution will be met, has given opposition parties – especially those critical of US foreign policy – ammunition against the current negotiations.

“We believe that Pakistan has suffered enormously because of this so-called war against terror. That is why we are calling for an end to the partnership. We do not want to see any NATO supply routes reopened, because we believe that is equal to aiding the US war effort in Afghanistan. We will only reopen them, if it facilitates the withdrawal of foreign troops from our region,” says Shafqat Mehmood, the spokesperson for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). The party is led by the former cricket star-turned-politician, Imran Khan, who has earned political points on his criticism of US foreign policy.

Raza Rumi, director of the Islamabad-based Jinnah Institute, says public sentiment is a reflection of an irrational and impractical approach to the country's foreign policy and national interest.

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