ISLAMABAD: The government signed with the United States on Tuesday a memorandum of understanding (MoU) governing supplies to and from American troops in Afghanistan.
The signing of the accord for ‘Transit of cargo to and from Afghanistan through Pakistan’ paved the way for the release of $1.18 billion in Coalition Support Fund reimbursements held up for over two years.
The only new feature of the arrangement, which in essence is reportedly similar to the existing practice, is that it is in black and white.
The agreement was concluded on the eve of ISI chief Lt-Gen Zaheerul Islam’s maiden trip to the US for renewing ties with the CIA.
Analysts say the signing of the agreement and Gen Islam’s visit to the US may be significant steps towards rapprochement after months of acrimony but are unlikely to resolve the underlying contentious issues that from time to time cause strains.
“This MoU is a demonstration of increased transparency and openness between our governments in respect of Pakistan’s sovereignty as requested by the Pakistani parliament,” US Charge d’Affaires Richard Hoagland said after signing the agreement with Defence Ministry’s Additional Secretary Rear Admiral Farrokh Ahmed. Newly appointed Defence Secretary Lt-Gen (retd) Asif Yasin Malik attended the signing ceremony.
Pakistani and American negotiators took 90 days to conclude the six-page agreement and its two annexures - one on a negative list (goods not allowed to be transported through the country) and the other detailing interlocutors at various levels.
Nato supply routes through the country, suspended after the Nov 26 Salala attack, were reopened earlier this month under a mechanism that existed before the seven-month blockade because the agreement on transit of cargo was still to be concluded.
It will take a few more weeks for the new arrangement to become fully functional as the two sides will sit down to settle the terms of reference on the basis of the MoU.
Both Ambassador Hoagland and Secretary Malik hailed the signing of the accord as a “landmark event” and praised the work put in by the negotiating teams for finalising it.
Secretary Malik said that after the MoU there were no “foggy areas” and “crystal clear guidelines” had been set for the process. He said the pact would contribute to regional and global peace and security.
Details of the agreement were not shared with the media even though most of its contents have already been reported through leaks.
Talking to Dawn, a senior defence official said Pakistan had fully secured its interests under the new transit system. “Under this MoU we have the right of rejection, refusal of cargo that doesn’t comply with the requirements and revoking the agreement,” he noted.
The new system functions under a Central Coordination Authority. The chief liaison officers for the two countries are the defence secretary of Pakistan and the head of the US office of defence representative in Pakistan. At the working level, the mechanism is two tiered -- policy and oversight; and operations and implementation.
All containers will be scanned twice -- at the port of entry (Port Qasim) and the port of exit (Torkham / Chaman) -- to ensure the implementation of the condition barring transportation of lethal equipment through Pakistani territory. Shipments of some categories of weapons may be allowed on the way back from Afghanistan.
Consignments for Afghan Security Forces may include weapons and ammunition.
Vehicles carrying the containers will be fitted with radio frequency identification (RFID) trackers.
Asked if there was some built-in arrangement to reduce the chances of suspension of the routes in the aftermath of any unpleasant incident or accident, Mr Hoagland said the MoU was about logistics and did not cover many other issues that were still being discussed.
He said that despite presence of a provision for either side to walk away from the agreement, he did not see any reason for the MoU to be revoked in the near future.