The cost of the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan is about to rise by $365 million annually under an agreement that would reopen a key NATO supply route through Pakistan that’s been closed for nearly six months.
The accord, which the Pakistani government announced late Tuesday, would revive the transport of vital supplies of food and equipment from Pakistani ports overland to land-locked Afghanistan. In return, the U.S.-led coalition will pay Pakistan a still-to-be-fixed fee of $1,500 to $1,800 for each truck carrying supplies, a tab that officials familiar with negotiations estimated would run nearly $1 million a day. The officials requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to reveal details of the agreement.
Pakistan closed the land route to supplies headed to the coalition after American aircraft mistakenly attacked two Pakistani border outposts Nov. 26, killing 24 Pakistani soldiers. Since then, supplies for coalition forces in Afghanistan have passed through one of two routes that stretch from Afghanistan through central Asia and Siberia to Georgia on the Black Sea. One of the routes is nearly 6,000 miles long. The Pakistan route is less than 500 miles.
Officials in Washington said they didn’t know how much of the new cost the United States would bear. As the United States contributes more than two-thirds of the 130,000-strong international force, which operates under the command of NATO, it’s expected that Washington will pay most of the new fee.
In return, the U.S. is asking Pakistan to provide security for the supplies, which are trucked through the country by private local transport companies, and much speedier clearance of customs and checkpoints. Militants and robbers frequently attack trucks carrying NATO goods. No effective security had been provided in the past.
“Security is the most important thing we require for swift transportation to be sustained,” said Nadeem Khan, the chief executive of Raaziq International, one of the major Pakistani companies involved in carrying NATO supplies. “That is the least that the (Pakistani) government can provide us as taxpayers.”
Before the Pakistan route was suspended, 30 percent of coalition supplies passed through the country, according to the Pentagon.
Reopening the route could be key to plans by NATO forces to end their combat mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, a goal that would require the U.S. and other countries to move equipment out of Afghanistan to Pakistani ports.
American and Pakistani negotiators are still haggling over details of the new supply agreement. A definitive deal is likely by early next week.
The NATO traffic in and out of Afghanistan through Pakistan is anticipated to be as many as 600 trucks a day between now and the end of next year.
Until now, Pakistan, which joined the United States as an ally in invading Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has charged only nominal fees for shipments to U.S.-led forces. But the new charge is considered a Pakistani effort to assert itself in its relationship with Washington, which suffered a series of serious setbacks last year, beginning with a CIA contractor’s shooting of two Pakistani civilians in January, continuing with the May raid that found and killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and ending with the border outpost attack.
Late Tuesday, after a meeting of Pakistan’s top civilian and military officials in Islamabad, the prime minister’s office confirmed that the NATO supply route, known as GLOC or Ground Lines of Communications, would be reopened, subject to final negotiations.
The meeting “authorized officers of relevant ministries/departments to conclude the ongoing negotiation on the new terms and conditions for resumption of GLOCs,” a statement from the prime minister’s office said.
In a major climb-down, Pakistan dropped its demand that Washington apologize for the deaths due to the November raids. There was also no agreement to end controversial strikes by American drone aircraft against suspected militants in Pakistan’s tribal area, as demanded by a cross-party resolution of Pakistan’s Parliament.
The statement added that “the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would continue to remain engaged with the government of the United States on other parliamentary recommendations, including the question of apology and cessation of drone attacks.”
The other major point of contention, on which no accord was announced, is the money that the United States owes Pakistan under the Coalition Support Funds program that reimburses Islamabad for the cost of guarding its western frontier with Afghanistan. According to Pakistani security officials, Pakistan is owed more than $2 billion and hasn’t received a payment for two years.
Earlier Tuesday, NATO formally invited Pakistan to attend a meeting of the military alliance that begins Saturday in Chicago. The invitation had been held up because of the closure of the supply line.