Pakistan to Reopen NATO Supply Lines

Posted July 3rd, 2012 at 3:20 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Pakistan is reopening vital NATO supply routes into Afghanistan after closing them in response to a deadly U.S. airstrike last November.

Clinton said she spoke to Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar by phone Tuesday and that they both acknowledged the mistakes made in the incident that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border. Clinton said they were “both sorry for the losses suffered” by both countries in the fight against terrorists and that the United States “is sorry for the Pakistani military's losses.”

Islamabad had demanded a full apology following the incident, but up until now, U.S. officials only had offered their “deepest regret” and “sincere condolences.”

Clinton also said her Pakistani counterpart assured her that Islamabad would not charge any transit fees for the NATO supply convoys. The possibility of transit fees reportedly had been one of the main sticking points between the two countries during their months-long discussion over reopening the supply lines.

Pakistan's ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman said she appreciated Clinton's statement and hoped that bilateral ties could continue improving.

The Pakistani government said it was reopening the supply lines “to facilitate the transition process and help enable Afghanistan's national institutions to exercise full sovereignty over their country.”

Senior Pakistani ministers and military commanders had met Tuesday to discuss the issue. During the meeting, the country's new prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said that the continued closure not only harmed Pakistan's relationship with the United States, but also the other 49 members of NATO.

Both the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan General John Allen and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta welcomed Pakistan's decision to reopen the supply lines. A day earlier, General Allen had wrapped up his second visit to Pakistan in less than a week.

Foreign policy analyst Malou Innocent with the Cato Institute tells VOA that the reopening is a breakthrough for the two countries' strained relations. She says they both were facing their own pressures to resolve the issue, and that the seven-month closure was more of a show of force by Pakistan.

For months, one of Pakistan's demands for reopening the supply routes was for the United States to end drone strikes on its territory. Washington has consistently refused. But Pakistani officials said Tuesday they would continue engaging with U.S. officials on that issue.

NATO supplies can enter and exit Afghanistan through Pakistan or through Central Asia, but the northern Central Asian route is more expensive.