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Pakistan To Discuss Reopening NATO Supply Route

  • RFE/RL

A convoy of NATO supply trucks prepare to cross into Afghanistan near the border town of Chaman in 2009.

A convoy of NATO supply trucks prepare to cross into Afghanistan near the border town of Chaman in 2009.

Pakistani leaders are meeting to discuss whether to reopen Pakistan's border to convoys carrying supplies to NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

The meeting of the Pakistani cabinet's defense committee comes amid indications that Pakistan may decide to end the blockade.

Pakistan shut the NATO supply route after NATO air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November. The strikes heightened tensions in the already strained relations between Islamabad and Washington.

The United States has expressed regret for the deaths of the Pakistani solders but refused to apologize. The United States has blamed both sides for mistakes that led to the air strikes.

A Pakistani decision to reopen the supply route would come just days before NATO's summit in Chicago on May 20-21.

The summit will focus on Afghanistan policy as NATO countries prepare to pull out their combat forces by 2014.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar: "It was important to make a point."

Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar: "It was important to make a point."

Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said on May 14 that Pakistan "has made a point" by shutting the border but said it was time to "move on" in relations with the United States.

She also said that Pakistan, like the United States, wanted "peace and stability" in Afghanistan.

"Pakistan's strategic objective in the region, and the stated objective of the West, or of NATO, in the region -- that of peace and stability for Afghanistan -- are exactly the same. They are identical," she said. "So we want to continue to be a facilitator and an enabler and not a blocker. And this is what Pakistan has tried to achieve.

"So why did they stop in the first place? They stopped in the first place because 24 of our soldiers were martyred in what seemed to be something we could not justify in terms of a reaction. So I think we need closure on that and [to] move on. It was important to make a point. Pakistan has made the point and we now need to move on and go into a positive zone of trying to conduct our relations."

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said continuing the blockade would punish not just the United States but other NATO countries or countries allied with the alliance.

"NATO is not confined to only one country," Gilani said. "There are more than 40 countries that are involved. We are seriously discussing on this issue. We have received the parliamentary recommendations. Under the light of parliamentary recommendations, we are moving forward, and I think our talks are very constructive and that would yield results."

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington that both countries had made "considerable progress" in talks on ending the blockade.

"It's good news if Foreign Minister Khar is making positive statements about the importance of [reopening the NATO supply route to Afghanistan] for Pakistan, for Pakistan's relationship with Afghanistan, [and] for their relationship with us," Nuland said. "But as I said, we haven't yet completed the negotiations."

Ending the blockade, however, risks a domestic backlash in Pakistan.

In addition to the deaths of the 24 soldiers, anti-American sentiment in Pakistan has been fueled by the killing in a U.S. raid of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011, as well as by U.S. drone strikes in the border region with Afghanistan.

The United States says the drone strikes are a key tool in the battle against Islamist militants. But many in Pakistan believe they kill mainly civilians.

With reporting by AP and AFP

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