CANBERRA / ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said on Tuesday difficult talks with the United States to repair frayed ties and re-open Nato supply routes to Afghanistan were not being thwarted by a Pakistani demand for high tariffs on the supplies.
Pakistan cut the routes for Nato supplies in November last year to protest against the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers killed in cross-border fire from Nato aircraft.
The supply lines for goods shipped in to the Pakistani port of Karachi and trucked in to landlocked Afghanistan have been vital for US-led forces over their more than 10-year involvement in Afghanistan.
Now, the routes are seen as important for the withdrawal of most foreign troops from Afghanistan before the end of 2014.
But talks on getting the routes re-opened have become snagged on a Pakistani demand for a substantial increase in the fees Pakistan charges on the supplies, media has reported.
But Foreign Minister Khar rejected that.
“Pakistan is not in any sort of price-gouging debate right now. So these impressions are indeed incorrect, wrong and must be dispersed as soon as possible,” Khar told reporters.
“The US side knows very well the needs and requirements to enable us to move in that direction, to enable us to take that decision,” she said, referring to re-opening the routes.
She did not elaborate.
The United States has rebuffed Pakistan’s demands for an apology for the air strike in November in which the 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed and ties have become severely strained.
The two sides failed to agree on the tariff and the United States said on Monday it was withdrawing negotiators from Pakistan without securing a deal after six weeks of talks.
NATO still hopes for Pakistan transit agreement
Nato still hopes to reopen transport supply routes to Afghanistan through neighbouring Pakistan despite securing new transit deals with three Central Asian states, Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen said the Nato transit agreements with Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan would give Nato forces more flexibility ahead of the planed withdrawal of most foreign combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
“We want as many options as possible,” Rasmussen told the National Press Club in the Australian capital, Canberra.
“Winding down a very comprehensive mission in Afghanistan is logistically quite a challenge, and to manage that we need as many transit opportunities as possible,” he said.
However, Rasmussen also said officials were hopeful the transit route through Pakistan would be re-opened “in a not too distant future”.
The issue of military supply routes through Pakistan has become a lightning rod for tensions between the United States and Pakistan, adding to Pakistan’s concerns over drone strikes and the US incursion into Pakistan last year in the operation that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
US officials have warned that resupplying troops in Afghanistan through the northern, Central Asian route could be up to two-and-a-half times more expensive.
That route could also require cooperation from Russia to ensure access to sea ports, but Rasmussen said Nato already had an agreement with Moscow. He gave few other details.
“We have already a reverse transit agreement with Russia, and the fact that we have now concluded transit arrangements with a number of Central Asian states makes our transit arrangement with Russia even more effective,” Rasmussen said.
He refused to comment on the costs of using northern supply routes, adding the system worked on a commercial basis with transport companies in the transit countries.
Rasmussen is in Australia for talks with Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith and to sign a Nato-Australia political agreement with Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Australia, a strong US ally, is the largest non-Nato contributor to Afghanistan, with around 1,500 troops.
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