US eyes Pakistani supply routes for Afghan pullout
With a sense of urgency on their minds, top US officials have begun crucial talks with Pakistani authorities for the withdrawal of thousands of US-led foreign troops and military equipment from Afghanistan through NATO supply lines.
While the US authorities are engaged with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Qatar and other facilitators of peace talks with the Taliban, they have started important talks on the plan to ensure smooth and safe exit of NATO troops and war equipment from Afghanistan. In this connection, senior US official Peter Lavoy visited Islamabad at the end of last month and met senior Pakistani civilian and military officials.
Although not much was released to the media about his visit, but officials privy to latest developments on US-Pakistan relations said that Lavoy and his delegation was here primarily to chalk out a plan for the use of NATO supply lines through Pakistan for the exit of NATO troops from Afghanistan. “Lavoy’s visit was the beginning of a very important process and it is aimed at working out a strategy to ensure the safety of withdrawing US troops and military equipment,” said an official here seeking anonymity.
Lavoy, who is the principal deputy assistant secretary of defecse for Asian and Pacific security affairs, would discuss the outcome of his talks with top US officials in Washington, he said.
Pakistan had angrily blocked NATO supply lines in November 2011 following deadly strikes by US-NATO aircraft on Pakistani border posts that killed several Pakistani soldiers. However, the supply lines were restored after seven months following an apology from former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton on July 3, 2012.
An agreement was signed on July 31, 2012, between US and Pakistan, which allowed NATO supply convoys to cross into Afghanistan from Pakistan up to the end of 2015 – one year beyond the deadline for the withdrawal of US combat forces. The agreement also prohibited the transportation of arms and ammunition for NATO troops through Pakistan, but exception was given to military equipment meant for the Afghan National Army. The agreement was said to be valid until December 31, 2015, and could be extended for one year after mutual consultations.
A diplomatic source said the US and Pakistani authorities would also have to work out an acceptable formula for the passage of arms and ammunition through NATO supply lines during the troops’ withdrawal. “The supply of arms to Afghanistan was banned and the matter of withdrawing arms and ammunition through these supply lines would also have to be sorted out,” he said, requesting anonymity. He said that Pakistani ports were seen as the most efficient route for the withdrawal of NATO troops and equipment, adding that the US would like to ensure that there was no blockade of the supply lines on their way back as it happened in 2011. He said the Obama administration had announced to withdraw the majority of its 68,000-strong military stationed in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and the NATO supply lines through Pakistan would play a key role in realising the strategy for pullout from Afghanistan.