Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), on Tuesday welcomed Pakistan's decision to reopen the western alliance's supply routes closed last year in response to a deadly cross-border airstrike by NATO-led troops based in neighboring Afghanistan.
"I welcome Pakistan's announcement that the ground supply lines to Afghanistan are now opening. The resumption of transit arrangements for ISAF supplies through Pakistan demonstrates strengthened cooperation between ISAF nations and our partner Pakistan," Rasmussen was quoted as saying in a statement posted on the alliance's website.
The NATO news release also stressed that Pakistan has an important role to play in supporting a secure Afghanistan for stabilizing the entire region. It also noted that all member-nations of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan had agreed at the recently concluded Chicago summit that regional cooperation remains the key to promoting a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan.
Rasmussen's remarks came hours after Pakistan agreed to reopen the NATO supply routes it had closed last year after 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a cross-border air raid by NATO-led forces in Afghanistan in November. Islamabad has since confirmed its decision to reopen the supply routes without charging additional transit fees.
The development was announced by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after 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.
Clinton said Pakistan has also agreed not to charge extra transit fees in the larger interest of peace and security in Afghanistan and the region. Notably, Islamabad had demanded increasing the transit charges from the prevailing charges of $250 per truck to $5,000 per container for reopening the supply routes.
Islamabad's decision will help the US and the NATO to complete their planned troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 at a much lower cost. Nevertheless, Khar made it clear to Clinton that 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.
Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta welcomed the Pakistani decision. Separately, General John Allen, the US commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan, said Islamabad's latest decision was "a demonstration of Pakistan's desire to help secure a brighter future for both Afghanistan and the region at large."
by RTT Staff Writer
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