ISLAMABAD — Pakistani and U.S. officials have formally signed an agreement allowing NATO supply trucks to travel through Pakistan into Afghanistan through the end of 2015. The deal comes a day before the head of Pakistan's spy agency begins talks in Washington with his American counterpart on anti-terrorism cooperation.
For more than a decade, U.S.-led coalition troops fighting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan have received supplies through Pakistan without a formal agreement between Islamabad and Washington.
But a coalition airstrike in November that mistakenly killed 24 soldiers prompted Pakistani authorities to shutdown the NATO supply lines and re-evaluate future engagement with the United States.
After months of negations with Washington and a U.S. apology for the deaths of the soldiers, Islamabad reopened two border crossings to coalition cargo earlier this month. The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding Tuesday in Rawalpindi has formally put an end to the crisis that analysts say was threatening to harm the withdrawal of international combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
During the signing, the senior U.S. diplomat in Pakistan, Richard Hoagland, said the agreement set the stage for resolving other issues hampering anti-terrorism cooperation between Pakistan and the United States.
A 'landmark' deal
“This is a first concrete, very positive step. Of course, it is clear to our political leadership in both capitals, whether it’s military or civilian, that we have a number of issues to work on, said Hoagland. "But what this has done I believe has opened the doors so that once again we can sit down together and work through those various issues.”
The American diplomat said the agreement allows for the United States to release over $1 billion in frozen military aid to Pakistan.
Pakistani Defense Secretary Asif Yasin Malik, who also attended the ceremony, said the "landmark" deal holds international significance.
“I believe that his MoU will contribute to the stability to the region because if this process is stable then the region will benefit. And then, if the region benefits it is a global issue,” Malik said.
The deal allows for the transportation of fuel and other supplies to international forces in Afghanistan without any new transit fees. However, it only allows weapons for the Afghan National Army to be transported through Pakistan.
Counterterrorism talks to follow
The signing comes a day before the chief of Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI, begins talks on counterterrorism cooperation with CIA Director David Petraeus in Washington.
This will be Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam’s first visit to the United States and the first by a Pakistani spy chief since May of last year when a covert U.S. raid deep inside Pakistan killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. The U.S. operation plunged ties to a new low.
Officials in Islamabad said the ISI chief will demand an immediate end to U.S. drone strikes against militants and a sharing of the technology as well as intelligence with Pakistan so its own troops can carry out the operations.
For its part, the United States has repeatedly demanded Pakistan go after al-Qaida and Taliban-linked militants in Pakistan, particularly the Haqqani network - which is blamed for numerous attacks against U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan. U.S. military officials also allege continued ties between Pakistan's ISI and the Haqqani network. Pakistan strongly denies the allegations.