Pakistan and US ink NATO convoy accord

Pakistan and US ink NATO convoy accord

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan – Agence France-Presse
Pakistan and US ink NATO convoy accord

Pakistani soldiers escort a convoy of trucks carrying supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan before crossing the into war-torn nation from the border town of Chaman.

Pakistan signed a deal with the United States governing arrangements for NATO convoys traveling to Afghanistan, seeking to draw a line under a seven-month border blockade yesterday.

A few trucks made it across even before the agreement which is part of efforts by the “war on terror” allies to patch up their fractious relationship, which plunged into crisis last year over the air strikes and the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, who was hiding in Pakistan.

It comes just a day before the head of Pakistani intelligence, Lieutenant General Zaheer ul-Islam, begins a three-day visit to Washington for talks with the head of the CIA, which has been interpreted as another sign of a gradual rapprochement. Under the agreement inked in Rawalpindi, the home of Pakistan’s powerful military, the U.S. will release $1.1 billion under the Coalition Support Fund to reimburse the troubled nation for fighting militants within its borders.

Guidelines laid out by the Pakistani parliament earlier this year insisted that in future no weapons and ammunition be transported through the country, though Western officials say this never happened in the first place. A Pakistani security official said the agreement gave Islamabad the right to refuse or reject any shipment and special radio chips would be fitted to containers for monitoring.

Richard Hoagland, the deputy U.S. ambassador to Islamabad who signed the agreement on behalf of Washington, hailed it as a “demonstration of increased transparency and openness” between the two governments.

Pakistani Defence Secretary Asif Yasin Malik, who attended the ceremony, said the deal would contribute to the stability of the region and hailed it as a “landmark event”.

 In Karachi, a leading subcontractor in the business, Alhaj Taj Mohammad, said agreement could help resolve the rows over security and compensation but predicted it could still take 10 days to start clearing goods from customs.

But Akram Khan Durrani, chairman of the All Pakistan Oil Tankers Owners Association, said fears about security would remain.

Pakistan lifted its blockade after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said sorry for the air raid deaths, but a row over security guarantees and compensation have delayed a resumption of normal traffic.

Islamabad agreed to reopen land routes for NATO goods on July 3 after the longest border closure of the decade-long war in Afghanistan in protest at botched U.S. air raids that killed 24 Pakistani troops last November.