Pakistan has agreed to reopen NATO supply routes it had closed in response to the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a cross-border air raid by foreign coalition forces stationed in Afghanistan last year, it was announced Tuesday.
The development was announced by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after holding a telephonic conversation with with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar Tuesday morning. Clinton said she conveyed Washington's "deepest regrets" over the tragic incident to her Pakistani counterpart during their conversation.
"I once again reiterated our deepest regrets for the tragic incident in Salala last November. I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives," Clinton said, stating that both she and Khar acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives.
"We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again," Clinton said. She added that Pakistan has agreed not to charge additional transit fees in the larger interest of peace and security in Afghanistan and the region.
She described Islamabad's latest decision "tangible demonstration of Pakistan's support for a secure, peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan and our shared objectives in the region," and noted that it will help the US and the NATO to complete their planned troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 at a much lower cost.
"Our countries should have a relationship that is enduring, strategic and carefully defined, and that enhances the security and prosperity of both our nations and the region," she said. In her call to Khar, she reiterated "deep appreciation to the government and the people of Pakistan for their many sacrifices and their critical contribution to the ongoing fight against terrorism and extremism."
According to Clinton, Khar insisted during their conversation that no lethal equipment will be allowed to transit Pakistan into Afghanistan unless it is meant to equip the Afghan national security force. The duo also discussed the importance of taking coordinated action against terrorists who threaten Pakistan, the United States and the region.
Separately, US Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta welcomed the Pakistani decision, and said: "As I have made clear, we remain committed to improving our partnership with Pakistan and to working closely together as our two nations confront common security challenges in the region."
Earlier, the deadly NATO cross-border air strike in November prompted Pakistan to suspend most military co-operation with the Western military alliance as well as the United States and shut down NATO supply routes passing through its territory.
Since then, the US and NATO have been making serious attempts to persuade Pakistan to lift its blockade, which had forced the Western alliance to use a much costlier supply route passing through Central Asia.
Nevertheless, Islamabad insisted on a formal apology from Washington for lifting the blockade and demanded an immediate end to US drone strikes on militant targets in Pakistan, insisting that the attacks were counter-productive as they end up killing civilians along with the targeted militants.
In a report released last month, State Department's internal watchdog noted that US diplomats in Pakistan were facing increasing levels of harassment by officials there after the NATO airstrike in November. It also recommended to make the issue a top priority in future high-level discussions with Pakistani authorities.
Notably, relations between Islamabad had Washington have been strained by the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a raid carried out by US special forces deep inside Pakistan in May 2011. Also, Washington has been frustrated over Pakistan's failure to act against Haqqani Islamist militants who use the country as a base for launching attacks on foreign coalition troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
by RTT Staff Writer
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