After long closure, NATO trucks cross border
06 July, 2012
CHAMAN: The first trucks supplying NATO troops in Afghanistan crossed the border from Pakistan on Thursday after Islamabad ended a seven-month blockade.
Pakistan closed overland routes for NATO convoys into its war-torn neighbour after a US air raid in November killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border post, plunging ties between the "war on terror" allies to a new low.
Following a bitter seven-month standoff, Islamabad agreed to reopen the routes on Tuesday after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said sorry for the air strike deaths.
Three trucks loaded with mineral water were cleared to enter Afghanistan from the Chaman border post in Balochistan on Thursday, Chaman district customs official Abdul Razaq Imran told AFP.
"Three NATO containers parked in customs house Chaman for the last seven months have crossed into Afghanistan from the Chaman border," he said.
"We cleared their documents and allowed them to cross the border after we received a letter from the Federal Board of Revenue about the restoration of the NATO supply."
Malik Hukam Dad, an official from Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency at Chaman, said three trucks had been cleared and two had already crossed the border.
The majority of trucks for the NATO convoys have spent the past seven months standing idle in Karachi.
Officials there said it was likely to be several days before they set off as measures to protect the containers from attack by Taliban were still being worked out.
"The security situation is very bad so we cannot take any risks. We will be providing every possible security to the NATO truckers," said Sharfuddin Memon, a senior Home Department official in Sindh.
Pakistani Taliban have vowed to attack NATO supply trucks, and haulage associations have voiced fears for the safety of their drivers.
Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), said the terrorists would strike at the convoys "with a new spirit and more effective strategy to destroy them".
The Defence Council of Pakistan, a coalition of right-wing and extremist groups, has called for countrywide protests against the NATO convoys.
Rana Mohammad Aslam, vice president of the All Pakistan Goods Carrier Association, said that in view of the threats, truckers were installing tracking systems in their vehicles and taking other security measures.
The land routes into Afghanistan are vital as the United States and its NATO allies withdraw troops and equipment built up in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion.
The blockade had forced the United States and its allies to rely on longer, more expensive northern routes through Central Asia, Russia and the Caucasus, costing the US military about $100 million a month, according to the Pentagon.
As part of the deal to open the routes, which followed months of negotiations, Washington will release about $1.1 billion to the Pakistani military from a US "Coalition Support Fund" designed to reimburse Pakistan for the cost of counter-insurgency operations.
Islamabad, a key but wary US ally in the fight against Taliban, had steadfastly insisted on an apology for the November attack, but Washington had previously only expressed regret.
NATO supply reopened in best national interest: PM Ashraf
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Thursday defended the decision to reopen the Ground Lines of Communications (GLOCs), which allowed NATO supplies through Pakistani territory, saying it was taken in the best national interest and in the light of the recommendations of parliament.
The prime minister expressed these views while talking to Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Deputy Prime Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, who called on him at the Prime Minister's House. The PML-Q leaders had supported the government's decision to reopen NATO supplies.
Raja said, "As the withdrawal of the NATO and ISAF forces gets underway, Pakistan wants to facilitate the process in the interest of regional peace and stability." He said that peace and stability in Afghanistan was closely linked to peace and stability in Pakistan.
The prime minister said that Pakistan was a partner of the international community and playing its leading role against forces of terrorism as a frontline state.
He said that prolonged deadlock over the issue of NATO supplies could have hurt the country's relations with the NATO countries, which included friendly countries as well as brotherly Muslim countries such as Turkey, Qatar and UAE.
Raja referred to passage of legislation from the European parliament, which would enhance market access for the Pakistani exports from 2014 onwards under the Generalised System of Preference (Plus), which, he said, would not have been possible without the active support of some of the EU countries who are part of NATO. He said that it was for the first time in the country's history that a bipartisan parliamentary consensus had been evolved on the broad contours of foreign policy.
Raja said that Pakistan made it clear that its red-lines should be respected and added in the same context that the new terms of engagement as approved by parliament were visibly heeded to by the US and NATO countries.
Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain supported the government's decision to reopen NATO supplies, adding that no country could afford international diplomatic isolation.
He said that the presence of US, NATO, ISAF forces in Afghanistan represented about 50 countries of the world under the UN mandate, including brotherly Islamic countries such as Turkey. The PML-Q leader said that the diplomatic impasse over the issue could have created problems for Pakistan at the UN.