U.S. resorts to more tough messaging with Pakistan

As Pakistan continued with its ambivalence over reopening NATO supply lines, the U.S. has resorted to more tough messaging over the weekend with Defence Secretary Leon Panetta stating that the 33-year imprisonment of the doctor who helped nab al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden would not help put the strained bilateral relationship back on track.

In an interview to the ABC, Mr. Panetta also made it clear that the U.S. was “not about to get gouged in the price” as negotiations are on to fix the price for using the Ground Lines of Communication (NATO supply lines) that run from Karachi into Afghanistan through Chaman in Balochistan and Torkham in the Khyber agency.

“We want a fair price,” he said amid indications that Pakistan wants to charge $5,000 per container as against the $250 paid over the last couple of years till November 27, when GLOC was shut down following the killing of 24 soldiers by NATO along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Pakistan's contention is that $5,000 per container is still way lower than what the U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan are paying to the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) — a series of commercially-based logistical arrangements connecting the Baltic and Caspian ports with Afghanistan via Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus — which has the added disadvantage of being a longer route.

Besides trying to draw maximum mileage out of the situation — particularly as a huge outward traffic is expected when the coalition forces begin withdrawing from Afghanistan — Pakistan's argument is that for the first nine years of the war on terror, NATO moved supplies overland through Pakistani territory gratis.

A nominal fee of $250 began to be charged only in the last couple of years but the wear and tear of its infrastructure because of the movement of the heavily laden trucks has been phenomenal. Add to this, the security threat that the movement of NATO supplies poses within the country given the unpopularity of the Western occupation of Afghanistan.

Continuing to mount pressure on Pakistan to secure the release of the doctor who helped nab the world's most wanted terrorist, Mr. Panetta said: “What they did with this doctor doesn't help in the effort” to put relations back on track.

A Senate committee has already cut $33 million — at the rate of $ 1 million per year of his imprisonment — from next year's foreign aid budget for Pakistan in retaliation amid calls within the country for his release or at least granting him due process of law.

Dr. Afridi's brother on Monday sought the intervention of the Chief Justice of Pakistan in ensuring that he got his right of appeal. Also, the family has sought security. Security around Peshawar Jail, where Dr. Afridi is lodged, was also being strengthened given the threats from terrorist organisations.

Through this all, the government has remained silent except for maintaining that the U.S. ought to respect Pakistani law and that there was a mutual desire to mend fences. The delay in deciding on reopening GLOC is being attributed to the government's fear of bearing the responsibility alone as the opposition is lined up against it and the army has also sought to distance itself from any decision-making on NATO supply lines.

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