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Despite Possible 'Reset,' Pakistan Keeps Afghan Border Closed To NATO

NATO tankers are parked near oil terminals in the port city of Karachi after Pakistani authorities shut vital NATO supply routes into Afghanistan.
Pakistan has blocked NATO supply trucks from entering Afghanistan since November 26, when NATO attacks killed two dozen Pakistani border guards.

So far, the only public signs in Pakistan are that the border will continue to remain closed indefinitely.

On January 6, the chairman of Pakistan's Parliamentary Committee on National Security, Mian Raza Rabbani, said the embargo would remain so long as relations with NATO remain fraught.

That came as Rabbani announced his committee has finalized its recommendations for new terms of engagement between Pakistan and U.S.-led NATO forces and will hand its recommendations to Pakistan's prime minister early next week.

He gave no hint of what the recommendations contain.

Once the new rules of engagement are approved by parliament, they will be the trigger for discussions with Washington over the two countries' partnership. If the two sides agree, NATO supplies could again cross the Pakistani border into Afghanistan.

"We are discussing all this. Whatever our foreign policy lines are for the U.S. and NATO, the committee is working on this,"
said parliamentarian Khurshid Ahmad, a member of the National Security Committee. "This will be a complete package. If the U.S. agrees to work on our terms, well and good. But still we have not finalized this."

But if Islamabad wants to reset relations with Washington on its own terms, there are also signs it may now be feeling the pressure of Washington's July decision to withhold $800 million in aid.

Rabbani's committee is reported to have received briefings by top government financial officials on the impact of the U.S. aid cut as it finalized its recommendations.

That suggests that Islamabad could put more room for negotiations into its final "reset" with Washington and NATO than Rabbani's public statements imply.

Deteriorating Trust

Islamabad's ban on NATO supplies is the longest blockade by far since the start of the Afghan war in 2001.

Pakistan has partially closed the supply routes before, notably for 11 days after crossborder NATO air strikes in September 2010 killed three Pakistani soldiers.

But the November 26 attack, in which NATO helicopters mistakenly struck two border posts, killing 24 soldiers, particularly enraged Pakistan as a symbol of deteriorating trust between the allies.

Today, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border remains as firmly closed to NATO as it was immediately after the November 26 attack.

Muhammad Asghar, the deputy commissioner of Qala Abdullah District in Balochistan, confirmed this week that trucks carrying NATO containers continue to be sent back from the Chaman border crossing to Karachi.

"This [turning back] is a step taken in accordance with the policy of the government of Pakistan," Asghar said. "We have nothing to do with what kind of equipment is [in the containers]. That is a custom's matter."

NATO's second route through the Khyber Pass in northern Pakistan is equally blocked, with border guards subjecting even non-NATO contracted trucks to strict checks to verify they are not carrying any alliance supplies.

NATO has said publicly that it has sufficient alternate routes to supply its forces and that it expects the blockade to be lifted.

The two supply routes through Pakistan account for about one-third of all cargo that NATO brings into Afghanistan.

Another one-third of NATO's supplies are flown directly into Afghanistan, while the remaining cargo goes overland along the Northern Distribution Network, which passes through Central Asia from the Caucasus or Russia.