Pakistan is willing to drastically reduce the taxes and transit fees it intends to impose on Nato supplies passing through the country only if the United States accepts full responsibility of the Salala air raid and offers a public apology.
A senior foreign office official admitted that the apology, and not tariff rates, is the main hurdle for the resumption of Nato supplies to Afghanistan. Land routes for Nato supplies were indefinitely suspended after a US air raid killed 24 soldiers at the Salala check post.
“Once the US tenders an apology, the issue of taxes and transit fees will be settled in no time,” said the official requesting anonymity.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns are expected to meet today (Thursday) at Kabul on the sidelines of the ministerial conference on Afghanistan. It is believed that the two will work towards narrowing down their differences which have had a considerable impact on both countries.
Diplomatic sources dub the meeting as a significant development in light of the US decision to withdraw negotiators from Islamabad last weekend.
Khar confirmed on Wednesday at a joint news conference with her Danish counterpart that the issue of tariff was not a stumbling block in resetting ties with the US. “Pakistan is not engaged in any sort of price-gouging debate right now. These impressions are indeed incorrect, wrong and must be dispersed as soon as possible.”
“The US knows very well our needs and requirements to enable us to move in that direction; to enable us to take that decision,” Khar said with reference to the resumption of Nato supplies.
Meanwhile, during a congressional committee’s hearing in Washington, US senator Dianne Feinstein appeared to endorse Khar’s remarks by suggesting that Pakistan was willing to lower tariff rates in return for an apology. “It is my view that Pakistan will lower the cost, but they want an apology,” she said.
However, there is no indication as yet to suggest that the US will accept Pakistan’s demand.
Testifying before the Senate’s subcommittee on appropriations for defence along with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dempsey, Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta said the US had “expressed regret for the mistakes that were made.”
“The problem is that at this point they’re asking not just for that, but other elements that have to be resolved,” said Panetta.
He acknowledged that the continued blockade of land routes by Pakistan was proving very costly for the US and that it had to transport goods using alternative supply lines such as the Northern Distribution Network (NDN).
Panetta estimated the cost borne by the US as a result of the closure to be $100 million per month. He also attributed the increase in the defence budget to this saying it was “very expensive” to use the NDN.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2012.