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Pakistan Considers Re-Opening NATO Supply Routes


A driver sits overlooking trucks parked along the road, including those carrying supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan, near Pakistan's Torkham border, after it was shut down to traffic November 26, 2011.

A driver sits overlooking trucks parked along the road, including those carrying supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan, near Pakistan's Torkham border, after it was shut down to traffic November 26, 2011.

Pakistan's parliament is expected draw up rules of engagement and increased transit fees the United States and NATO must agree to before it will reopen the border for military convoys heading into Afghanistan. Pakistan closed the vital supply route last November when American air strikes killed 24 Pakistani troops in a "friendly fire" incident.

In mid-March a Pakistan Senate session will open, and a parliament review of all cooperative arrangements with the United States and NATO is expected to top the agenda.

In November, the Pakistan government ordered the review after a cross-border NATO airstrike on two military outposts in the country's northwest. Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said it was an "an attack on Pakistan's sovereignty" and Pakistan subsequently shut down all NATO supply lines through its territory to Afghanistan.

Defense analyst Mahmood Shah, a retired Pakistani general, said the review is expected to lay out conditions that must be met to ensure Pakistan's territorial integrity is respected. He says it will call for closer intelligence sharing and coordination of military operations in border areas and explicitly prohibits international intelligence organizations from operating inside Pakistan.

"That no secret American agents would be allowed in Pakistan. And, if there is anyone caught spying for the U.S., whether he is a Pakistani or a U.S. citizen [he], will be prosecuted," Shah said.

In addition, new fees and taxes may be added to trucks and containers ferrying supplies to coalition forces in Afghanistan. Former Pakistani foreign secretary Najmuddin Shaik says there needs to be more transparency in how military assistance is being dispersed. And, he says these suggested transit fees are commonly imposed to compensate the host country for damage done by heavy military equipment on its roads and rail system.

"My point about this is not so much about money as it is about the fact that these things need to be negotiated in a business-like manner. And, that whatever agreements are reached, those agreements must be clear. Let us have everything done in an organized fashion," he said.

Although Pakistan's Senate is scheduled to discuss the review, retiring Senator Saleem Saifullah, who until recently was the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, says that does not mean they will soon pass a resolution to restart relations with the United States and NATO.

"So you know parliament, when 440 people sit together, it is quite difficult to predict what they want to do. So, it is a tough one for the government. They have my sympathy," he said.

NATO had managed to keep supplies flowing to troops in Afghanistan by using routes on its northern border as well as deliveries by air. But U.S. officials say the roads through Pakistan are needed to carry out a scheduled U.S. troop drawdown, which calls for reducing American forces from nearly 90,000 to 68,000 by the end of September.

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