Hopes fading for swift US, Pakistan deal on Afghan supply routes

Published: May 19, 2012

A view of Nato tankers parked in Karachi as they wait for the Nato supply route to be reopened. PHOTO: MOHAMMAD NOMAN/EXPRESS/FILE

CHICAGO: The Obama administration may be not be able to strike a long-awaited agreement with Pakistan to help supply Western soldiers in Afghanistan as hoped in time for a major Nato summit in Chicago this weekend, a US official said.

“There’s a distinct possibility that we may not see an agreement before the end of this weekend,” the US official said on condition of anonymity. “But talks are progressing and we do expect to reach a deal in the near future.”

Earlier this week, as Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari accepted a last-minute Nato invitation to the May 20-21 summit, many US officials were optimistic they could finally make a deal to reopen key Nato ground routes into Afghanistan. Pakistan shut the routes in protest when US aircraft killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border in November.

Zardari’s appearance at the summit was seen as a potential breakthrough after the border deaths plunged perennially poor US-Pakistan ties into a deep freeze for months.

Now, as the two countries continue to disagree about details of a possible deal, that optimism appears to have faded.

Nato nations, grappling with severe fiscal pressure at home, are anxious to reach an agreement under which Pakistan would allow Nato trucks to once again travel on Pakistani roads, in part because shipping supplies into land-locked Afghanistan from the north is much more expensive.

Being able to transit across Pakistan becomes even more important as US commanders prepare for the monumental logistical task of withdrawing most of the 128,000 Nato soldiers in Afghanistan – and the equipment they have accumulated since 2001 – by the end of 2014.

Negotiations between US and Pakistani officials in Islamabad have dragged on.

From the beginning, Zardari’s government has demanded a high-level apology for the border deaths, which Nato said were accidental but which enraged Pakistanis.

The Obama administration, loathe to expose itself to further Republican criticism, has refused to apologise.

The US official said a “wide gulf” remained on the amount Nato nations would be charged for transporting equipment into Afghanistan, the central stumbling block in those talks.

Pakistan says its roads require millions of dollars in repairs after years of Nato trucks going back and forth on it. The amount that Pakistani officials believe should be charged is far higher than what US officials have offered.

“The fees proposed by the Pakistanis are unacceptable, not just to the United States but to our NATO allies,” the official said.

Lack of an agreement could add strains to interactions between President Barack Obama and other senior US officials and Pakistani leaders during the summit. US officials have long complained that Pakistan has failed to act sufficiently against militants fighting US troops in Afghanistan.

The White House said on Thursday that Obama had no plans for a one-on-one meeting with Zardari.

Still, Zardari’s government supports reopening the supply routes once a deal can be reached that satisfies both sides. For that reason the Obama administration expects to ultimately find an arrangement on the supply routes and on the precise amount of US military assistance Washington owes Pakistan.

Reader Comments (11)

  • Cautious
    May 19, 2012 - 4:59AM

    If Pakistan doesn’t go through with the NATO supply line by the time the meeting starts I suspect Zardari isn’t going to receive much of a welcome — it will just reinforce Pakistan’s international reputation as a duplicitous country that says one thing and does another.

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  • Parvez Amin
    May 19, 2012 - 5:55AM

    Here is what Pakistan should say at every meeting. First pay for repairing the roads you broke. Then pay for using the roads in the past. Then pay a fine for transporting illegally transporting military equipment and weapons. Then admit all the damage caused to Pakistan by your terrorist spies. The pay for all the people you killed at Salala…This just a partial list.

    If the Americans refuse, then tell them to leave, cut the aid, apply sanctions and whatever else they threaten… then see Pakistan survive and do better.

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  • HASAN MEHMOOD
    May 19, 2012 - 8:15AM

    “The fees proposed by the Pakistanis are unacceptable, not just to the United States but to our NATO allies,” the official said.”

    As for the lack of apology and reduction in drone attacks, one can understand USA limitations to some extent.

    But haggling over transit fee (probably less than 1500$ per truck and a very nominal %age of the merchandise value) is mind boggling. Its all the more astonishing keeping in view the back pedaling done by GOP on the issue of reopening in spite of fierce public / media / parliament opposition.

    If the USA is not willing to provide even the smallest fig leaf of face saving, then I guess its all over. We have to prepare and live with USA sanctions or whatever.

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  • American Muse
    May 19, 2012 - 8:18AM

    Don’t believe this kabuki theater – a show performed by Pakistan’s rapacious leaders to placate an angry Pakistani public. The fix is in. The NATO supply routes will be re-opened very soon.

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  • irankhan
    May 19, 2012 - 8:41AM

    Why is IK not making a statement on NATO supplies? Has he also joined the corrupt establishment?

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  • Haq Nawaz
    May 19, 2012 - 8:57AM

    The US and its Western allies seem to think they have monopoly on duplicity. Pakistan is playing their game and beating them at it. NATO routes will be opened after arrogant US/Western politicians and their self-styled virtuous commentators come to their senses and apologize for thier deadly mistakes and fairly compensate Pakistan for ruining its infrastructure and economy. By the way, what happened to claims of US generals and politicians that they did not need Pakistani routes anyway! The US can charm and arm-twist Zardari all it can. Unless the final proposal to open NATO routes is support by Pakistani people, 80% of whom consider Zardari and his government corrupt and inept, no deal can done and if done can be implemented.

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  • May 19, 2012 - 10:05AM

    @Cautious: Duplicitous governments and not the State consisting of its citizens. Be careful next time on what you comment about “DUPLICITY.” Okay? Salams and have a nice day.

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  • May 19, 2012 - 10:21AM

    @irankhan: Looks like it. He has an unavoidable interest in USA and UK where his daughter and sons live. Salams

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  • HASAN MEHMOOD
    May 19, 2012 - 1:33PM

    @irankhan:

    Why is IK not making a statement on NATO supplies? Has he also joined the corrupt establishment?

    I guess discretion is the better part of valor. Why we want him to commit Hara Kari?

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  • Sexton Blake
    May 19, 2012 - 5:16PM

    @the Skunk:
    Dear Skunk,
    I am sure that Cautious mistakenly got it wrong when he used the word duplicitous. He almost certainly meant that America was being duplicitous as against Pakistan. Isn’t that right Cautious?

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  • Dr V. C. Bhutani
    May 19, 2012 - 6:28PM

    Mr Zardari should not have gone to Washington without wrapping up an agreement for reopening supply routes to Afghanistan. If this report is accurate, then Mr Zardari must prepare to come back from Washington empty handed. As it is, Mr Obama has not even scheduled a meeting with Mr Zardari. Let’s see what the summit achieves.
    V. C. Bhutani, Delhi, India, 19 May 2012, 1857 IST

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