Last Updated: Wed Jul 04, 2012 01:17 am (KSA) 22:17 pm (GMT)

Pakistani Taliban threaten attacks after NATO supply routes deal

Pakistan and the United States have reached a deal to reopen land routes that NATO uses to supply troops in Afghanistan. (AFP)
Pakistan and the United States have reached a deal to reopen land routes that NATO uses to supply troops in Afghanistan. (AFP)

Pakistani Taliban threatened to attack trucks carrying supplies to U.S.-led NATO troops in Afghanistan after Islamabad and Washington reached a deal to re-open the lines.

“We will attack NATO supplies all over Pakistan. We will not allow anyone to use Pakistani soil to transport supplies that will be used against the Afghan people,” the group’s spokesman told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Earlier on Tuesday, Pakistan and the United States reached a deal to reopen land routes that NATO uses to supply troops in Afghanistan, ending a seven-month closure imposed after 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by NATO aircraft last November.

The United States has said it will release about $1.1 billion to Pakistan's military as part of the deal.

Prior to the closure, Pakistani Taliban carried out dozens of attacks, disrupting supplies for 130,000 U.S.-led NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan, and have repeatedly warned of more if Pakistan reopened supply routes.

Following the official announcement NATO truckers said they feared more attacks and demanded security guarantees before the resumption of the supply routes.

Islamabad has long demanded that Washington apologize for the deadly air raid before it would reopen the NATO routes, closed in anger after the U.S. attack.

“Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives,” Clinton said in a statement.

“We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.”

Earlier, Pakistan’s new prime minister acknowledged that keeping up the seven-month blockade would damage relations with the United States and other NATO member states.

“The continued closure of supply lines not only impinge our relationship with the U.S., but also on our relations with the 49 other member states of NATO,” Raja Pervez Ashraf told a meeting of top civilian and military leaders.

A senior Pakistani official said the defense committee of the cabinet had met to discuss whether to end the blockade, but his office stopped short of announcing any decision after the talks ended.

The defense committee groups together the most senior cabinet ministers and military commanders. Pakistan’s powerful army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, and the head of the ISI intelligence agency, Zaheer ul Islam, were among those present.

The border blockade has forced the United States and its allies to rely on much longer, more expensive northern routes through Central Asia, Russia and the Caucasus. The cost of ferrying supplies by air and over northern railways and roads has cost the U.S. military about $100 million a month, according to the Pentagon.

Initial hopes of a deal on re-opening the routes had fallen apart at a NATO summit in Chicago in May, amid reports that Pakistan was demanding huge fees for each of the thousands of trucks that rumble across the border every year.

But Clinton said Tuesday: “Pakistan will continue not to charge any transit fee in the larger interest of peace and security in Afghanistan and the region.

“This is a tangible demonstration of Pakistan’s support for a secure, peaceful, and prosperous Afghanistan and our shared objectives in the region.”

Reopening the routes will help the United States and NATO to complete its planned withdrawal of troops and equipment from Afghanistan “at a much lower cost,” Clinton said.

“This is critically important to the men and women who are fighting terrorism and extremism in Afghanistan.”

Almost all foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan at the end of 2014, some 13 years after the U.S. invasion of 2001 which toppled the Islamic hardline Taliban regime.

The deal on the supply routes will help ease tensions for troubled Pakistani-U.S. relations, which are at their worst since the 9/11 attacks and still reeling from the unilateral American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011.

Pentagon chief Leon Panetta welcomed the move, saying the United States remained “committed to improving our partnership with Pakistan and to working closely together as our two nations confront common security challenges in the region.”

The U.S. commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, who held talks in Islamabad twice in the last six days, praised the decision as “a demonstration of Pakistan’s desire to help secure a brighter future for both Afghanistan and the region at large.”

While Islamabad has demanded a formal apology for the deaths of its border troops, a U.S. and NATO investigation said the killings were the result of mistakes made on both sides.

The United States also has indicated it will free up funds for Pakistan that are supposed to reimburse Islamabad for counter-insurgency operations, officials said.

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