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RAWALPINDI - Pakistan on Tuesday signed a deal with the United States allowing Nato convoys to travel into Afghanistan until the end of 2015, seeking to draw a line under a seven-month border blockade.
The developments represent the formal end to a crisis between the two countries that started in November when Pakistan closed its border to supplies meant for US and other Nato troops in Afghanistan in retaliation for American airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Under the deal signed in Rawalpindi the United States will release $1.1 billion under the Coalition Support Fund to reimburse the troubled nation for fighting militants within its borders.
A US official said the deal lasts until the end of 2015, well beyond the 2014 departure date for the bulk of Nato’s 130,000 combat troops from Afghanistan, and can be renewed for one-year intervals beyond that.
The deal specifies routes to be taken and has a list running to several pages of lethal supplies that may not be transported through Pakistan, although armoured vehicles and Humvees are permitted provided they are not mounted with weapons.
Guidelines laid out by the Pakistani parliament earlier this year insisted that no weapons and ammunition be transported through the country, though Western officials say this never happened in the first place.
A Pakistani official said the deal gave Islamabad the right to refuse or reject any shipment and special radio chips would be fitted to containers for monitoring.
US Charge d’Affaires Richard Hoagland called it a ‘concrete very positive step.’
“Of course it’s clear to our political leadership in both capitals ... that we have a number of other issues to work on,” said Hoagland at the signing ceremony at the Ministry of Defence in Rawalpindi.
A press note issued by the US Embassy said, “The MoU is a demonstration of increased transparency and openness between our governments, in respect of Pakistan’s sovereignty as requested by the Pakistani parliament.”
“It also underscores our shared commitment to support Afghanistan and regional stability.”
“We are committed to working together with Pakistan toward these goals on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect. Our countries should have a relationship that is enduring, strategic, and carefully defined, and that enhances the security and prosperity of both our nations and the region,” it concluded.
Hoagland said Washington would release $1.1 billion in military aid following the signing of the new agreement.
Asif Yasin Malik, the Defence Secretary at the Pakistani defence ministry who attended the ceremony, said the deal would contribute to the stability of the region and hailed it as a ‘landmark event’.
In Karachi, a leading subcontractor in the business, Alhaj Taj Mohammad, said Tuesday’s agreement could help resolve the rows over security and compensation but predicted it could still take 10 days to start clearing goods from customs.
But Akram Khan Durrani, chairman of the All Pakistan Oil Tankers Owners Association, said fears about security would remain. “No owner is going to move his vehicle until solid guarantees are given for it,” he told AFP.
The US official confirmed that security for convoys was not part of the MoU, saying that was Pakistan’s responsibility.
The new agreement applies to US supplies that have not yet arrived in Pakistan, not the thousands of containers that have been stuck in the country for months and have slowly started moving across the border into Afghanistan. It also spells out the terms for the tens of thousands of containers that will be needed to pull US equipment and supplies out of Afghanistan.
The deal would prohibit the US from shipping weapons by land through Pakistan — as demanded by the country’s parliament — unless intended for Afghan national security forces.
Following the deaths of the 24 soldiers, the parliament had also demanded a ban on weapons shipped through Pakistani airspace to Afghanistan and an end to US drone attacks in Pakistan. But there is no indication that the US has complied with these conditions.
Pakistan insisted on transit fees as high as $5,000 per truck during the negotiations to reopen the supply line but eventually agreed to the existing charge of $250 — although this figure is not clearly spelled out in the agreement.
To sweeten the deal, the US agreed to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on Pakistan’s roads, which the government says have suffered significant damage from heavily loaded Nato trucks. But this promise does not appear in the new agreement.
The so-called “memorandum of understanding” also provides the option for both sides to extend the deal in one-year intervals beyond Dec 31, 2015. And it would apply to other Nato nations if they sign separate pacts with Pakistan.
Pakistani officials said Tuesday that the convoys would resume only after the routes – which span hundreds of miles - are suitably protected. Under the new arrangement, police in cities and towns would handle security until the convoys reach the restive tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, where nation’s paramilitary Frontier Corps would take over.
The agreement formalises the verbal agreements that the United States reached in the past with Gen Pervez Musharraf.
The signed agreement is significant in that it appears to have been reached with the absence of overt Pakistani military involvement, US officials have said the Pakistani generals stood back to allow civilian leaders to negotiate the pact, which proved to be a slow, politicised and unwieldy process.
Some officials have described the Nato route agreement as a watershed moment, signaling that the “one phone call” days of Washington-Islamabad relations are over, and a sign that civilian rulers, for all their struggles in solving the nation’s social and economic ills, now have a voice in foreign policy.