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First NATO trucks roll into Afghanistan after months of negotiation

After months of back-and-forth negotiation, Pakistan reopened NATO supply routes on Tuesday when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologized for a November border attack.

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    A driver stands on top of a truck carrying NATO Humvees at a terminal in the Pakistani-Afghan border, in Chaman, Pakistan, Wednesday. Trucks carrying NATO troop supplies are set to resume shipments to Afghanistan on Wednesday following a deal between the US and Pakistan that ended Islamabad's seven-month blockade.
    Matiullah Achakzai/AP
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NATO trucks rolled into Afghanistan today, the first since Pakistan closed the border after a deadly, errant US strike on Pakistani troops in November.

Reuters reports that supply trucks began entering Afghanistan Thursday, after border security was given the green light to open the way. Security officials “received their orders today, and now two trucks have crossed the border into Afghanistan,” said Imran Raza, a customs official.

Supply vehicles remain stalled elsewhere in Pakistan though, reports the BBC, whose correspondent says that NATO trucks are still awaiting the all-clear in the port city of Karachi. The BBC's Aleem Maqbool says that drivers there are not aware of any supply trucks that have left the city to travel to the Afghan border.

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Pakistan had long predicated the reopening of the Afghan border on an apology from the US for its attack on the Pakistani military's post at Salala, killing 24 Pakistani soldiers. But while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly apologized on Tuesday for the attack, it appears that the Pakistani government also convinced the US to draft a written agreement of each side's obligations. The Express Tribune of Pakistan reports that as part of a "package deal" to reopen the border, the US and Pakistan would draw up a "black and white" agreement on areas of cooperation, in order to avoid future incidents.

A Pakistani official familiar with the development revealed that the US was initially reluctant to negotiate such an accord since the existing ‘vague’ arrangements served its purpose. However, Islamabad managed to convince Washington on the issue during intense discussions aimed at breaking the deadlock on Nato supply lines, the official added. ...

“Salala like incidents had been taking place for years and the reason was a lack of written agreement,” said the official, who asked to remain anonymous.

“It was important that we put an end to this practice and it is only possible if we have clear agreement with the US,” the official added.

Such an agreement might tamp down criticism of the deal within Pakistan. A Pakistani opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Wednesday lambasted the decision to reopen the border, calling it "a source of degradation and humiliation for Pakistan," reports the PakTribune. Mr. Khan noted that parliament, to whom the government had earlier referred the border issue, had demanded that the US cease drone strikes and withdraw covert personnel as a condition of reopening the border. But neither condition appears to have been met, Khan said.

"If they had to surrender and compromise so easily, what was the point in first blocking the NATO routes and then referring the matter with great pomp and show to parliament for ultimate decision," he said.

But even with the Afghan-Pakistani border reopened, logistics remain a huge issue for NATO forces in Afghanistan, particularly as they begin to withdraw. The Washington Post reports that even with Pakistan's cooperation, NATO will still have to move at least a third of its materiel overland, on railways, and roads that cross former Soviet republics to the north of Afghanistan.

Those routes carry strategic risks of their own. Access to the transit lines depends on the whims of several authoritarian Central Asian leaders as well as Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, a longtime nemesis of NATO. Moreover, the cost of shipping goods along the northern routes is about triple that of the much-shorter Pakistani lines.

The only other option for departing landlocked Afghanistan is by air — an even more expensive alternative, costing up to 10 times as much as the Pakistani ground routes.

The Post notes that the northern routes are seen as a hedge against the possibility of Pakistan shutting its supply routes again.


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