Pakistan seeks $5,000 transit fee for each NATO container
LAHORE: Pakistani negotiators have proposed a fee of about $5,000 for each NATO shipping container and tanker that transits its territory by land into and out of Afghanistan, said a report in Washington Post.
The newspaper says the amount is a key sticking point in discussions about the terms of a deal that would allow the traffic to resume, about six months after Pakistan closed its border crossings, according to US and Pakistani officials.
Officials said on Tuesday that a deal was imminent, after they reached agreement in principle on reopening the transit corridors. But the details are being negotiated.
“The framework is ready, but we are now looking at rates,” Washington Post quoted a Pakistani official as saying, while a US official also emphasised that Washington had not agreed to any figure.
According to officials from both countries, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the closed-door negotiations here, the newspaper says Pakistan proposed the figure after calculating its total outlays for damaged infrastructure – primarily wear and tear on its roads from the heavy vehicles – as well as security costs and a new tariff.
Pakistani officials said they had also taken into account their belief that NATO, by using alternative, far longer transport routes through Central Asia, is paying at least double the amount they had requested.
Nonetheless, the notion of payment for using what are known as the Pakistani ground lines of communication, has been difficult for the Pentagon to swallow, because access previously was considered free. But other US officials have pointed out that the United States had given Pakistan billions over the past decade as compensation for its counterterrorism efforts. That money is expected to be discontinued as the new arrangements are put in place, the paper claims. Pakistan says it is still owed more than $3 billion for past operations; the United States puts the figure at about $1.3 billion.
The transport agreement is being considered as a matter separate from other aspects of the bilateral security relationship, including Pakistan’s rejection of US drone attacks inside its borders. Discussions on that issue are continuing between senior intelligence officials.
Before the closures, more than 70 percent of NATO’s supplies in Afghanistan – largely paid for and utilised by the United States — travelled over land from Karachi. The route has become even more important to US and coalition forces as they begin the combat troop withdrawal scheduled for completion by the end of 2014.
The pullout will be discussed at a NATO summit in Chicago this weekend. The alliance invited President Asif Ali Zardari to the summit this week once it became clear that a transit agreement was near.
The newspaper further reports that some analysts speculated that Zardari might wait to announce in Chicago any new deal with NATO. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s cabinet took up the matter but ended the day with no decision except to reinforce parliament’s recommendation that shipments contain no weaponry or lethal supplies.
US officials noted that the parliamentary recommendations being debated referred only to non-lethal supplies travelling into Afghanistan but proposed no such restriction on outgoing goods.
Although Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira told reporters after the Wednesday meeting that “no decision on NATO supplies will be made under any pressure”, the US government is eager to resolve the issue, which has left thousands of containers sitting in lots near two border crossings and idled countless Pakistani transport and other workers, the newspaper concluded.