Pakistani minister urges reopening border to NATO

AP News
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Posted: Feb 07, 2012 5:26 AM
Pakistani minister urges reopening border to NATO

Pakistan's defense minister said Tuesday that the country should reopen its Afghan border crossings to NATO troop supplies after negotiating a better deal with the coalition.

Pakistan closed the crossings over two months ago in response to American airstrikes that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at two Afghan border posts. The closure has forced the United States to spend six times as much money to send supplies to Afghanistan through alternative routes.

Pakistani Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar told the private Geo TV that the government should negotiate new "terms and conditions" with NATO, then reopen the border.

He did not provide specific details. But other Pakistani officials have suggested that the government levy additional fees on the coalition for using the route since the heavy trucks cause damage to the roads.

Pakistan's parliament is expected to vote on a revised framework for relations with the U.S. in mid-February that could pave the way for the government to reopen the supply line.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said last week that she didn't think it would be much of a problem to reopen the route after the parliament vote.

The defense minister echoed this view, saying "I think the people who are deciding, who are giving recommendations, will make the right decision."

For most of the 10-year war in Afghanistan, 90 percent of supplies shipped to coalition forces came through Pakistan, via the port of Karachi. But over the past three years, NATO has increased its road and rail shipments through an alternate route that runs through Russia and Central Asia. The northern route was longer and more expensive, but provided a hedge against the riskier Pakistan route.

Before the accidental American airstrikes on Nov. 26, about 30 percent of non-lethal supplies for U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan traveled through Pakistan.

The U.S. has since increased the amount of supplies running through the northern route, but this has cost it a lot more money. Pentagon figures provided to the AP show it is now costing about $104 million per month to send supplies. That is $87 million more per month than when the cargo moved through Pakistan.