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Pakistan opens NATO supply line in boon to US forces in Afghanistan

Despite the cost savings, some analysts worry that coupling the reopening with Clinton’s apology sends the wrong message to Pakistan.

Pakistan has reopened NATO military supply lines to Afghanistan following an apology from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a major breakthrough after seven months of tension between the US and Pakistan.

Secretary Clinton called her Pakistani counterpart, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, to apologize for an incident in November when US border operations inadvertently killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Following the conversation with Ms. Clinton, Pakistan agreed to reopen the supply route at no additional cost to NATO. At one point during negotiations, Pakistan was asking the US for $5,000 per NATO truck – 20 times more than the toll before the border closure.

The reopened supply line is seen as a major boon to NATO forces in Afghanistan, which were bearing much higher costs using alternate supply routes especially as US troops begin to withdraw from the country ahead of 2014.

“From the American perspective it allows us withdraw our equipment on time and at a much, much lower cost than using the Northern Distribution Network,” says Joshua Foust, a fellow at the American Security Project. “Reopening the supply routes gives them the ability to operate on this 2014 timeframe that I don’t think they would have been able to do if they had to rely on the northern border to get everything out.”

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Despite the cost savings and other logistical benefits of once again having access to the Pakistan resupply routes, there is some concern among analysts that coupling the reopening with Clinton’s apology sends the wrong message to Pakistan.

“Pakistan is continuing to support all the elements that the United States wants to comprehensively defeat,” says Christine Fair, a professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies. “The answer to this is weaning itself off of Pakistan to put more pressure on Pakistan – sanctioning Pakistan, going after individuals and organizations that continue to support designated terrorist groups.”

“I don’t understand how the US thinks it can succeed in Afghanistan by making itself again dependent on Pakistan. I think this is a step backward,” adds Ms. Fair.

Pakistan has long been accused of supporting or not adequately addressing terrorist and insurgent groups that operate within its borders and launch attacks in Afghanistan. In recent months, US officials have turned up the volume on their calls to Pakistan, but this new deal may once again decrease US pressure.

In the immediate wake of the agreement, Clinton has praised Pakistan’s commitment to peace. The comments contrast increasingly public exasperation that Western military officials have expressed in regard to Pakistan’s relationship with militant groups.

“This is a tangible demonstration of Pakistan’s support for a secure, peaceful, and prosperous Afghanistan and our shared objectives in the region,” said Clinton in an official statement.

During the seven-month-long closure of the supply lines, the US and international forces managed to get the supplies they needed by increasing reliance on a route known as the Northern Distribution Network. The additional cost of using this route was at least $100 million more per month.