AF-PAK: Pakistan to End Border Blockade into Afghanistan

July 4, 2012 at 10:23 am Leave a comment

U.S. “Apologizes”

Back in January we quoted news reports coming out of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, that it was getting ready to reopen key border crossings used to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Fuel tankers lined up in Pakistan. (State Dept. website)

Those reports were premature, but it looks like Islamabad’s honor has been assuaged and the crossings – closed since NATO troops killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in a friendly fire incident last year – will be reopening soon after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement expressing regret for the November 2011 incident. The July 3 statement recounted a telephone conversation Clinton had with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.

“I am pleased that Foreign Minister Khar has informed me that the ground supply lines into Afghanistan are opening,” Clinton statement said.

Without access to supplies transported by truck from cargo ships in Pakistani seaports, much needed fuel and food had to be flown in – across Russian airspace – or trucked much farther from Central Asian countries north of Afghanistan, at an additional cost of $100 million a month.

Clinton said Pakistan would allow the transport of non-lethal supplies (no weapons or ammunition) and a State Department official said the $250 per container fee Pakistan had previously been charging to use the so-called Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC) would not rise. Back in January, reports indicated that in additional to a formal apology, Pakistan wanted to raise the rates on each truckload of military supplies to as much as $5,000.

The attack plunged already stormy U.S.-Pakistan relations to an all-time low following a series of incidents including the secret U.S. commando raid into Pakistan to kill al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.

The Pakistani soldiers were killed in the confusion after NATO troops on the Afghan side of the border were fired upon from Pakistan and an air raid was called in to drive off the attackers. U.S. and NATO commanders said Pakistani officials told them they had no troops in the area, so NATO helicopters fired on what turned out to be a Pakistani border post – killing two dozen soldiers and injuring many more. Pakistani Army officials denied the NATO version of the incident, claiming the attack was deliberate.

President Obama and other U.S. officials expressed regret but declined to go any further, angering Islamabad, which barred U.S. use of a Pakistani airbase to launch unmanned aircraft attacks on militants and closed the border checkpoints.

Clinton did not use the word apologize in her press statement but her expression of regret apparently satisfied Pakistani officials.

“As the statement makes clear, there were mistakes made on both sides that led to the tragic loss of life, and we are both sorry for those,” Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, told reporters yesterday (July 3), adding: “Without parsing the statement, I think the intent here is that we are both sorry for the losses suffered by both our countries in this fight against terrorists.”

Relations between the two countries are still far from friendly. The U.S. wants Pakistan to suppress militants associated with the Taliban and al Qaeda in their country – particularly the Haqqani network – who attack Afghanistan; and Pakistan wants the U.S. to cease drone-fired missile strikes in their territory, which they say often kill innocent bystanders, increasing outrage by Pakistanis against Washington and Islamabad.

Pakistan (Map courtesy CIA World Factbook)

The United Nations-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which includes U.S. and NATO troops, said it welcomed Pakistan’s decision to reopen the GLOC. U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the ISAF commander, who has been meeting with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, called the move “a demonstration of Pakistan’s desire to help secure a brighter future for both Afghanistan and the region at large.”

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Entry filed under: Afghanistan, Counter Insurgency, Counter Terrorism, National Security and Defense, Pakistan, Washington. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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