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Islamabad pressing for increase in charges

May 12, 2012


WASHINGTON, May 12: The United States and Pakistan are expected to make a last-ditch effort on Monday to reach an agreement that could pave the way for President Asif Ali Zardari to attend the Nato summit in Chicago next week, diplomatic sources told Dawn.

“If that attempt also fails, then Pakistan will be out of whatever decisions they make in Chicago on a future Nato strategy for the Pak-Afghan region,” the source said.

A diplomatic source told Dawn that the two sides have been meeting daily since a US team arrived in Islamabad last week and that the Pakistani finance ministry is playing a key role in the talks.

The negotiations focused on how much Pakistan should charge for allowing Nato to use its territory for supplying their troops in Afghanistan.

“The Pakistanis are demanding a rate substantially higher than what the Americans were paying before the route was closed,” said another source. The source refused to disclose the demanded rate but said it was “much lower” than what the Americans have to pay for using the alternative northern route.

A US Senator told a congressional hearing earlier this week that the route was costing the US an additional $38 million a month.

The Northern Distribution Network is a series of commercially-based logistical arrangements connecting Baltic and Caspian ports with Afghanistan via Russia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus.

Pakistan is demanding an apology over the incident and also wants the Americans to stop drone strikes in Fata. The Americans say they are unable to meet the demands but urge Pakistan to reopen the supply route while the two sides negotiate a new arrangement for a future relationship.

As US Special Representative Marc Grossman said when he was in Pakistan two weeks ago, “our team did not travel to Pakistan expecting an immediate decision on Nato supply lines”, a State Department official Laura Lucas told Dawn.

“What we sought was the beginning of a substantive conversation in which both sides were able to lay out their perspectives on how to move forward. That has now commenced and is on-going,” said the US official while confirming that a team of US experts was already in Islamabad, discussing various options for reopening the routes with their Pakistani counterparts.

“We hope we are able to work collaboratively towards a resolution on reopening the Nato supply lines, which is important to our Nato partners as well as to us,” Ms Lucas said.

In the negotiations for reopening the route, the US State Department is apparently pushing for reconciliation while the Pentagon, which previously favoured Pakistan, is taking a harder line, the sources said.

Meanwhile, a US congressman, known in Pakistan for supporting the demand for an independent Balochistan, is introducing the Pakistan Terrorism Accountability Act 2012 in Congress, which asks the US government to provide $50 million each to any American citizen killed “as a result of actions of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency or support provided by the ISI to other organisations or individuals, including the Haqqani Network”.

Last week, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher also sent a letter to the US Secretary for Homeland Security, asking why Noordin Mengal, a member of Peoples Organisation for Balochistan was denied entry to the US in 2008.