We are sorry! America: OK, now you are allowed move off! Pakistan
Pakistan has agreed to reopen its border to NATO supply convoys into Afghanistan after a seven-month blockade, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday, adding Washington was sorry for the loss of life in a botched US air raid last year.
The supply routes have been shut since November, when an American aircraft killed 24 Pakistan soldiers, aggravating already difficult relations between Washington and Islamabad. The announcement, following months of negotiations, will come as a relief to the United States and its NATO allies which need the routes for a planned withdrawal of combat forces from Afghanistan through 2014.
During a telephonic conversation on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar “informed me that the ground supply lines into Afghanistan are opening”, Clinton said.
Islamabad has long demanded that Washington apologise for the deadly air raid before it would reopen the NATO routes, closed in anger after the US attack.
“Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives,” Clinton said in a statement.
“We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.”
Clinton said, “Pakistan will continue not to charge any transit fee in the larger interest of peace and security in Afghanistan and the region. This is a tangible demonstration of Pakistan’s support for a secure, peaceful, and prosperous Afghanistan and our shared objectives in the region.”
Earlier, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf acknowledged that keeping up the seven-month blockade would damage relations with the United States and other NATO member states.
“The continued closure of supply lines not only impinge our relationship with the US, but also on our relations with the 49 other member states of NATO,” Raja told a meeting of top civilian and military leaders.
A senior Pakistani official said the Defence Committee of the Cabinet had met to discuss whether to end the blockade, but his office stopped short of announcing any decision after the talks ended.
The defence committee groups together the most senior cabinet ministers and military commanders. Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, and the head of the ISI intelligence agency, Zaheerul Islam, were among those present.
Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) on Tuesday approved reopening NATO supply route after it accepted a formal apology from the US over last year’s Mohmand air strike.
The committee, which met with Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in the chair, decided “in line with parliamentary recommendations” that no arms supply would be allowed through the route except for materials and weapons of Afghan forces.
“The DCC… decided to reopen the Ground Lines of Communication (GLOCs) through Pakistani territory to and from Afghanistan to facilitate the transition and the subsequent transformation process in that country,” the formal decision of DCC said.
“It was decided that no lethal cargo will go into Afghanistan except equipment for Afghan National Security Forces, essential for ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan,” officials said.
DCC confirmed that Pakistan would continue to charge no transit fee because the issue in the first place was not of financial gains but of the principle of sovereignty.
DCC reaffirmed that it will continue to be guided by the recommendations of parliament in the future as well.
After the NATO attack in Mohmand that killed 24 Pakistan soldiers, Islamabad had asked Washington to vacate Shamsi base and blocked GLOCs.
“These decisions were dictated by Pakistan’s principled stance on the issue of sovereignty, which should be respected at all costs and in accordance with the United Nations Charter and international law,” DCC observed.
The committee stressed that it was in Pakistan’s interest to support the transition, peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan as NATO/ISAF forces drawdown by 2014.
It said Pakistan’s future relations with the US must be based on mutual respect and mutual interest.
The meeting was attended by the deputy prime minister, ministers of finance, foreign affairs, defence production and information and broadcasting, adviser to the prime minister on interior, three services chiefs and DGs of ISI and IB. Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira told the media after the meeting that the government had decided the matter of NATO supply in accordance with the mandate given to it by the people of Pakistan.
He said Pakistan had made the world power to accept its principled stance on apology, adding that Islamabad was neither receiving a fee earlier nor would it receive henceforth. “It was a matter of integrity and principle and not money.” Earlier, in a telephonic conversation with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “acknowledged the mistakes” that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives.