AF-PAK: Pakistan’s Border Blockade May End Soon
Pakistan may be getting ready to reopen key border crossings into Afghanistan, ending a blockade imposed after a NATO air attack mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, according to Reuters.
The news service quoted an unidentified “a senior security official” Jan. 19 that two border checkpoints – closed since late November – would be reopened sometime in the future. The official also said that while trucks carrying crucial supplies to U.S. forces in Afghanistan would be allowed to pass, Pakistan intends to charge a tax or tariff on the incoming cargo – in part to show its continuing displeasure with U.S. and coalition forces’ activities in the troubled border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But U.S. officials say that Islamabad had not contacted Washington about that reported plan. “We have not, as of this moment, had any official communication from the Government of Pakistan on this subject,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Jan. 19.
At least one Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, is reporting that Prime Minister Yosuf Raza Gilani says Pakistan’s parliament will decide when and if to reopen the border to NATO supply trucks.
Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan had been deteriorating since the unannounced U.S. commando raid that killed al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden last May. That embarrassed the Pakistani military and its intelligence service which had claimed bin Laden was not in the country. Then on Nov. 26, more that two dozen Pakistani troops were killed or wounded in a NATO cross-border airstrike on two outposts.
NATO-led coalition forces said the attack was a mistake due to communication and coordination blunders after NATO troops came under fire from the Pakistani side of the border. But Pakistani public officials– already angered by U.S. drone strikes inside Pakistani territory – claimed the attack was deliberate. The U.S. has expressed regret about the incident but has not apologized.
The border shutdown has forced the U.S. and its NATO allies to transport food, fuel and other supplies via other routes at great cost. The Associated Press, citing a Pentagon report, says it now costs about $104 million a month to move the needed cargo via alternate routes – $87 million more per month than it cost before the Pakistanis closed the border. The alternate routes come down from the north after passing through Russia and Central Asia.
The blockade also backed up hundreds of fuel tankers and other trucks, making them vulnerable to attack by insurgents and terrorists.