Deputy U.S. ambassador in Islamabad, Richard Hoagland, left, and head of the Pakistani delegation, Rear Adm. Farrukh Ahmed, sign an agreement during a Ju;y 31 ceremony at the Pakistan Defence Ministry in Rawalpindi. Pakistan signed a deal with the United States governing arrangements for NATO convoys travelling to Afghanistan, seeking to draw a line under a seven-month border blockade. (Aamir Quresh / AFP via Getty Images)
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan — Pakistan on July 31 signed a deal with the United States governing arrangements for NATO convoys traveling to Afghanistan, seeking to draw a line under a seven-month border blockade.
Islamabad agreed to reopen land routes for NATO goods July 3 after the longest border closure of the decade-long war in Afghanistan. The closure was in protest of botched U.S. air raids that killed 24 Pakistani troops last November.
A few trucks made it across even before the agreement, which is part of efforts by the “war on terror” allies to patch up their fractious relationship. That relationship plunged into crisis last year over the air strikes and the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, who was hiding in Pakistan.
The deal comes just a day before the head of Pakistani intelligence, Lt. Gen. Zaheer ul-Islam, begins a three-day visit to Washington for talks with the head of the CIA. The talks have been interpreted as another sign of a gradual rapprochement.
Under the agreement inked in Rawalpindi, the home of Pakistan’s powerful military, the United States will release $1.1 billion under the Coalition Support Fund to reimburse the troubled nation for fighting militants within its borders.
Officials at the ceremony gave no details of the Memorandum of Understanding, nor did they release a copy at a news conference.
Guidelines laid out by the Pakistani parliament earlier this year insisted that in the future, no weapons and ammunition would be transported through the country, though Western officials said that never happened in the first place.
A Pakistani security official said the agreement gave Islamabad the right to refuse or reject any shipment, and special radio chips would be fitted to containers for monitoring.
Richard Hoagland, the deputy U.S. ambassador to Islamabad who signed the agreement on behalf of Washington, hailed it as a “demonstration of increased transparency and openness” between the two governments.
Pakistan lifted its blockade after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said sorry for the air raid deaths, but a row over security guarantees and compensation has delayed a resumption of normal traffic.
Officials closed the Torkham border crossing, the quickest route to Kabul from the port city of Karachi, to NATO traffic July 26 over security fears.
The Pakistani Taliban have vowed to attack NATO supplies, and on July 24, one of the truck drivers was shot dead in the northwestern town of Jamrud.
Pakistani Defence Secretary Asif Yasin Malik, who attended the ceremony, said the deal would contribute to the stability of the region and hailed it as a “landmark event.”
In Karachi, a leading subcontractor in the business, Alhaj Taj Mohammad, said the agreement could help resolve the rows over security and compensation but predicted it could still take 10 days to start clearing goods from customs.
“This agreement is very important, we were waiting for it,” Mohammad told AFP. “Hopefully we’ll have a copy by this evening, after which things could speed up.”
But Akram Khan Durrani, chairman of the All Pakistan Oil Tankers Owners Association, said fears about security would remain.
“No owner is going to move his vehicle until solid guarantees are given for it,” he said.