RAWALPINDI: Pakistan on Tuesday signed a deal with the United States governing arrangements for Nato convoys travelling to Afghanistan, seeking to draw a line under a seven-month border blockade.
Under the agreement signed in Rawalpindi, the home of Pakistan’s powerful military, the United States will release $1.1 billion under the Coalition Support Fund to reimburse the troubled nation for fighting militants within its borders.
Officials at the ceremony gave no details of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) nor did they release a copy at a news conference.
Guidelines laid out by the Pakistani parliament earlier this year insisted that in future no weapons and ammunition be transported through the country, though Western officials say this never happened in the first place.
A Pakistani security official said the agreement gave Islamabad the right to refuse or reject any shipment and special radio chips would be fitted to containers for monitoring.
The new agreement applies to US supplies that have not yet arrived in Pakistan, not the thousands of containers that have been stuck in the country for months and have slowly started moving across the border into Afghanistan.
It also spells out the terms for the tens of thousands of containers that will be needed to pull US equipment and supplies out of Afghanistan.
The deal would prohibit the US from shipping weapons by land through Pakistan — as demanded by the country’s parliament — unless intended for Afghan national security forces, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by media.
Richard Hoagland, the deputy US ambassador to Islamabad who signed the agreement on behalf of Washington, hailed it as a “demonstration of increased transparency and openness” between the two governments.
Hoagland called it a “concrete very positive step.” “Of course it’s clear to our political leadership in both capitals ... that we have a number of other issues to work on,” said Hoagland at the signing ceremony.
Pakistani Defence Secretary Asif Yasin Malik, who attended the ceremony, said the deal would contribute to the stability of the region and hailed it as a “landmark event”.
In Karachi, a leading subcontractor in the business, Alhaj Taj Mohammad, said Tuesday’s agreement could help resolve the rows over security and compensation but predicted it could still take 10 days to start clearing goods from customs.
“This agreement is very important, we were waiting for it,” Mohammad told reporters.
“Hopefully we’ll have a copy by this evening after which things could speed up,” he added.
But Akram Khan Durrani, chairman of the All Pakistan Oil Tankers Owners Association, said fears about security would remain.
“No owner is going to move his vehicle until solid guarantees are given for it,” he said.
Nato convoy deal comes just a day before the head of Pakistani intelligence, Lieutenant General Zaheer ul-Islam, begins a three-day visit to Washington for talks with the head of the CIA, which has been interpreted as another sign of a gradual rapprochement.
Islamabad agreed to reopen land routes for Nato goods on July 3 after the longest border closure of the decade-long war in Afghanistan in protest at botched US air raids that killed 24 Pakistani troops last November.
A few trucks made it across even before the agreement which is part of efforts by the “war on terror” allies to patch up their fractious relationship, which plunged into crisis last year over the air strikes and the US raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, who was hiding in Pakistan.
Pakistan lifted its blockade after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said sorry for the air raid deaths, but a row over security guarantees and compensation have delayed a resumption of normal traffic.
Officials closed the Torkham border crossing, the quickest route to Kabul from the port city of Karachi, to Nato traffic on Thursday over security fears.
The Pakistani Taliban have vowed to attack Nato supplies and last Tuesday, one of the truck drivers was shot dead in the northwestern town of Jamrud.