Nato chief urges Pakistan to keep Afghan transit lines open

Published November 4, 2013
Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen gestures during his monthly press conference at the Residence Palace in Brussels. AFP Photo
Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen gestures during his monthly press conference at the Residence Palace in Brussels. AFP Photo

BRUSSELS: Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged Pakistan on Monday to keep open supply lines to Nato forces in Afghanistan despite anger over a US drone strike that killed the Pakistani Taliban leader.

Pakistan said on Sunday it would review its relationship with the United States after Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud was killed two days earlier in North Waziristan, near the Afghan border.

“I feel confident that the Pakistani authorities will maintain open supply routes and transit routes because it is in Pakistan's own interest to contribute positively to stability and security in the region,” Rasmussen told a news conference.

The Pakistani government denounced Mehsud's killing as a US attempt to derail peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, who have killed thousands in their campaign to impose their rule.

Some Pakistani politicians have demanded that transit routes through Pakistan, used to supply Nato-led forces in Afghanistan, be cut in response.

Pakistan is the main route to supply US troops in landlocked Afghanistan with everything from food and drinking water to fuel. Any closure could be a serious disruption as US and other Western forces prepare to withdraw most of their troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year.

Pakistani cooperation is also seen as vital in trying to bring peace to Afghanistan, in particular in nudging the Afghan Taliban, allied to, but separate from, the Pakistani Taliban, into talks with the Kabul government.

Pakistan and the United States agreed in July 2012 to reopen land routes to Afghanistan, ending a seven-month crisis that damaged ties between the two countries. Without the Pakistani route, Nato forces are forced to use more expensive methods, such as airlifts, to bring supplies in.

Rasmussen declined to comment on the drone strike that killed Mehsud but appeared to lend support to US actions, saying “terrorism constitutes a threat to the whole region”.

He said he believed the Pakistani authorities, including the government and the military, realised it was in Islamabad's interest to ensure peace and stability in Afghanistan.

“The security of Afghanistan and Pakistan is inter-linked. There can't be security in the one country without security in the other,” he said.

Kerry says Washington sensitive to Pakistani concerns

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry defended the drone strike that killed Hakimullah Mehsud but added that Washington was sensitive to any Pakistani concerns, after Islamabad denounced the attack as a blow to peace talks.

Hakimullah Mehsud, who took over as the leader of the al Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban in 2009, was killed on Friday, along with three others, in a US drone strike in northwest Pakistan.

The Pakistani government denounced Mehsud's killing as a US bid to derail peace talks and summoned the US ambassador on Saturday to complain. Some politicians called for blocking US military supply lines into Afghanistan.

Kerry said that while he welcomed any discussions “we are sensitive to the concerns of the country and we look forward to working very closely with the government of Pakistan.”

“We intend to continue to work together with them (Pakistanis) through the strategic dialogue that we have established in order to work through these kinds of challenges.”

He added of Mehsud: “This is a man who absolutely is known to have targeted and killed many Americans, many Afghans and many Pakistanis. A huge number of Pakistanis have died at the hands of Mehsud and his terrorist organisation.”

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