US-Pakistan to discuss supply routes soon

March 23, 2012 - 10:36 AM

BRUSSELS (AP) — The United States and Pakistan will resume talks about possibly reopening NATO and U.S. supply routes to Afghanistan once Pakistan concludes its debate about new terms of engagement with the U.S., an official said Friday.

The two nations' ties have been frozen since American air strikes accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at the Afghan border in November, complicating U.S. efforts to negotiate an end to the war in Afghanistan. Pakistan's cooperation is seen as vital in that endeavor.

The incident triggered an outpouring of anger at America and calls for the permanent severing of ties between Washington and Islamabad. But that was never likely given both countries dependence on each other.

On Monday, Pakistan's parliament will begin debating a new policy toward the U.S.

Marc Grossman, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said in Brussels on Friday that he respects the work of a Pakistani parliamentary commission that recommended this week that Pakistan should demand an unconditional apology from the U.S. before the supply routes are reopened. It also called for an end to American drone attacks inside Pakistan.

The United States has expressed regret for the Nov. 26 border incident but avoided formally apologizing. U.S. officials were reportedly preparing to do that last month but postponed that after U.S. soldiers burned copies of the Quran in Afghanistan.

Once Pakistan's government concludes its work, "we'll then be in a conversation with the government of Pakistan about how to go forward," Grossman said in response to a question about the possible reopening of the supply routes.

The route from Pakistan's port of Karachi to landlocked Afghanistan has been NATO's main logistics link for its forces during most of the 11-year war. But over the last two years, the alliance has increasingly focused on the more secure routes from the north, through Russia and the Central Asian nations.

Today, almost all supplies are delivered overland through the so-called Northern Distribution Network. Last month, Moscow unexpectedly unveiled plans to permit the U.S. and other NATO nations to use a Russian air base in the city of Ulyanovsk as a hub for their air bridge to Afghanistan.

Grossman is on a tour of European capitals focused on securing funding for the Afghan security forces following the 2014 withdrawal of most U.S. and NATO forces. The allies estimate the government will need $4.1 billion annually to pay for the 350,000-strong army and police.

On Friday, Grossman briefed a meeting of NATO's governing body, the North Atlantic Council, which consists of the ambassadors of all 28 member states.

He said it's important that many countries share the cost of creating "a secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan," a key issue to be discussed at a NATO summit in Chicago in May.

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Associated Press writer Sebastian Abbot in Islamabad contributed to this report. Slobodan Lekic can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/slekich

(This version CORRECTS Corrects details about Pakistan's debate about its ties with the U.S.)