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Pakistan should 'bite the bullet' on NATO supplies: US official

13 June, 2012

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ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government should "bite the bullet" and re-open supply routes to NATO forces in Afghanistan in order to ease tensions with the United States, a senior US government official said on Tuesday.

The United States had said on Monday it was withdrawing its team of negotiators from Pakistan without securing a long-sought deal on supply routes for the war in neighbouring Afghanistan, publicly exposing a diplomatic stalemate and deeply strained relations that appear at risk of deteriorating further.

"If the civilian government in Islamabad would bite the bullet and make the political decision to open the ground lines of communication, that would deflect some of the negativity right now," the official said.

"It wouldn't automatically turn things around, but that would be an important step."

Pakistan banned trucks from carrying supplies to the war effort in Afghanistan last year in protest against a cross-border NATO air attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, a measure US officials initially hoped would be short term.

Although the US official suggested Pakistan would have to take several steps to repair heavily damaged ties, he said the strategic allies could not afford a rupture.

"We have longer-term interests that we must keep in mind. The interests are nuclear, it is counterterrorism and it is also reconciliation in Afghanistan for a relatively peaceful and stable region," said the US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"So you know, the heightened sentiments in Washington will eventually have to come to a point where people say hold on, we have bigger interests here."

Pakistan, for its part, is demanding an apology from the US over the NATO strike, but it is unlikely to get one. "Salala broke the camel's back," said the official.

With the Pakistan routes unavailable, NATO has turned to countries to the north of Afghanistan for more expensive, longer land routes. Resupplying troops in Afghanistan through the northern route is about 2-1/2 times more expensive than shipping items through Pakistan, a US defence official said on condition of anonymity.

End.

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