ISLAMABAD: The United States has agreed to pay compensation and additional taxes on Nato supplies passing through Pakistan in a move that indicates Washington’s eagerness to end the blockade of the vital supply line for coalition troops stationed in Afghanistan.
Washington conveyed its willingness to accept Islamabad’s demand at recent talks between the civil and military leadership of the two countries, confirmed Pakistani and American officials, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
An American diplomat familiar with the development disclosed that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s recent interaction with US President Barak Obama at the Seoul summit, and talks between the top military commanders of the two countries produced positive results on key issues.
“The meetings were extremely productive and clearly the two sides now have a better understanding of each other’s views,” the diplomat said, adding that the US was ready to pay compensation for the damage caused to infrastructure in the country by Nato containers and also an additional transit fee that Pakistan was seeking to impose on goods.
According to the National Highway Authority (NHA), Nato containers use the N-5 National Highway from Karachi to Torkham and N-25 from Karachi to Chaman, when supplying goods to forces stationed in Afghanistan. NHA estimates put the damage caused to the country’s infrastructure by Nato trucks at close to Rs120 billion.
An all-party and bicameral panel, which prepared recommendations to reset ties with the US, has asked the government to seek funds from Washington as compensation for the repair and maintenance of damaged infrastructure.
“Even if we pay compensation and additional taxes, Pakistan still is the cheapest and most viable option for Nato supplies,” said an American official.
Washington is keen to get the supplies moving again because it is much more expensive to ship goods by an alternative route that runs through Central Asia. The supply line through Pakistan is also vital for the US when it pulls out equipment from Afghanistan as its combat troops are due to withdraw from the country by the end of 2014.
Deadlock persists on drones
While there has been progress on the issue of Nato supplies, the two sides have hit an impasse on drone strikes inside the country’s tribal belt. The US, though, has shown willingness to discuss a new framework for the use of Predator strikes but ruled out the possibility of abandoning the CIA-led campaign.
“There is a zero-tolerance on drones, there is not even a remote possibility that the Obama administration will review this policy,” said another American official.
He revealed that Pakistan had offered to use precision guided F-16s as an alternative to the drone attacks to take out ‘high value’ targets in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
It is also the first time that the civil and military leadership is even privately asking the US to halt its drone campaign, said a Pakistan official.
In the past, the government and the military establishment has been accused of having a dual policy on drones as they have publicly condemned the strikes but believed to have privately condoned them.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2012.