4 July 2012, 23:07

Pakistan reopens NATO supply lines

Pakistan reopens NATO supply lines

Pakistan has reopened its transit supply lines to the 130,000-strong NATO-led force in Afghanistan, more than seven months after closing them following an American air raid which killed 24 Pakistani troops.

The US withheld apologies at the time. It also punished Pakistan for closing the routes by freezing $1bn in defence aid. NATO’s summit held in Chicago in May failed to resolve the problem. The Americans continued to ship their cargoes bound for Afghanistan across Russia and former Soviet Central Asia.

The breakthrough came last Tuesday, when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did extend the long-awaited apologies in a phone call to her Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar. Mrs Khar said the routes would be reopened, and the transit rate would stay nil.

Dr Viacheslav Belokrinitsky is Deputy Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences:

"The breakthrough came after the two ladies acknowledged mutual American and Pakistani guilt for last November’s incident. This was important, because it created conditions for a compromise."

Pakistan was also under financial pressure to reopen the routes. Indeed, reports that the transit was free are simply not true. The Pakistanis charged $250 per container, and were secretly bargaining for a much higher rate. The suspended defence aid, too, played its role.

Dr Belokrinitsky again:

"Pakistan spent 7 months without the transit revenue and the promised aid. This led many to believe that the Pakistanis would have to climb down after all. Observers also say that the Pakistani government needed the transit suspension for domestic political reasons."

Dr Vladimir Moskalenko of the Oriental Studies Institute sees another motive behind Pakistan’s decision to reopen the transit routes:

"NATO’s final pullback from Afghanistan is scheduled for late 2014. This means Washington has enough time to find alternative transit routes. If found, new routes would make transit across Pakistan unnecessary, leaving the Pakistanis high and dry."

Before the closure, the transit traffic was at about 250 containerloads a day. Had the American ‘sorry’ come immediately, the Americans would have saved over $700mn, and thousands of Pakistani truckers would have been spared the misery of spending more than 7 months without a job.

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