In a sign that Pakistan-US fissures are on the mend, the government has waived half of the demurrage charges on Nato containers stranded on Pakistani sea ports due to blockage of the land route.
The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet‚Äôs decision to write off Rs187.8 million demurrage and storage charges was taken just four days before the first anniversary of the attack on the Salala check post by US troops.
According to officials, three shipping and freight forwarding companies, namely International Logistics and Trading, Security Packers and Customs Consultants and Advisers, responsible for handling the Nato cargo, owe a total sum of Rs375.5 million.
An official of the ports and shipping ministry, who moved the summary to the ECC, said that these companies had been hired by Nato for handling the cargo, including the containers that remained stranded from the end of November 2011 to July 2012.
The move has irked some in the finance ministry, an official said, noting that the ministry had opposed the proposal to write off the demurrage charges. The Karachi Port Trust (KPT) cannot waive more than Rs5 million in charges, another government official pointed out.
In its criticism, the Economic Affairs Division argues that these companies should take up the claims with the Nato authorities instead of seeking a waiver.
The ECC did not deliberate over the issue and the decisions on three separate summaries of the ministry of ports and shipping were taken in haste. Both the divisions had given their dissenting views on the summary before it was tabled in the ECC meeting, officials added.
The emergency ECC meeting, called by the Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh concluded business without adequate deliberation or debate, the official said.
Nato supplies were halted due to tensions between Washington and Islamabad in the aftermath of the airstrike on Salalah check post that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers including two officers on November 26, 2011.
As a consequence, Pakistan began blocking Nato supplies. But after months of negotiations to reopen Nato supply the government tagged deliveries to Afghanistan at $5,500 per container.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta termed the demand a ‚Äúprice gouge‚ÄĚ in May this year. However, relations between Washington and Islamabad improved following an apology by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the supplies reopened in July this year without any additional charges.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2012.