ISLAMABAD: While both Pakistan and the United States have concluded technical talks for normalising strained relations, it was learnt Saturday that a middle way approach was on the cards for imposing a transit fee on Nato containers passing through Pakistani territory.
A senior Pakistani official speaking to The News on the condition of anonymity said that the Obama administration was contemplating different options in a bid to normalise its strained relations with Pakistan. Given that Islamabad was still insisting on an “apology” for last November’s Salala incident, Washington seemed to be inclined towards using the term “sorry” so as to end the ongoing stalemate between the two sides.
According to sources, Washington was also considering undertaking the rehabilitation of road infrastructure in order to open up suspended supply routes, and various options were under consideration for Congressional approval in this regard. Authorities in Islamabad have estimated that the heavy flow of Nato/Isaf supplies over the past decade have caused damage worth $1.6 billion to Pakistan’s road infrastructure.
A top government official told The News during background discussions, “After [the] election of a prime minister, this issue will be settled between the both sides.”
There was initially a huge gap between the estimation worked out by the Pakistani side and the US, as Islamabad forwarded its proposal to impose a fee of $5,500 per container while Washington kick-started its offer with the meagre suggestion of $223 to $500 per container. “Now we have suggested [a] middle way to find a solution to this stalemate, but the ultimate decision will be taken by political leadership of both countries,” the official added.
When contacted, Foreign Office Spokesman Moazzam Khan said that technical talks between both sides had concluded, and that the US team had already returned back to Washington. “Now it is up to [the] political leadership of both countries to take final the decisions,” he said, adding that no timeframe could be given regarding when these decisions would be taken.
US Embassy Spokesman Mark Stroh, meanwhile, confirmed that the US team had left Pakistan after concluding technical talks. “We are waiting for Pakistan’s response in this regard. We are ready for moving ahead and a formal response from Islamabad is awaited,” he maintained.
Just a couple of days ahead of Supreme Court judgement disqualifying the former Prime Minister Gilani, Islamabad and Washington concluded talks and now a final decision is due to be taken by the political leadership of both countries for restoring Nato supplies on the basis of mutual agreement.
The official said that the United States was not ready to provide the $5,500 transit fee per container on the basis that the cost via the Northern route stood at $14,000, and that by using Pakistani territory the cost was $7,500 per container, and so by adding a $5,500 levy its cost became similar to that of the Northern route.
“We have asked the US to rehabilitate the Peshwar-Torkhum road, as well as the Chaman road, and Washington is finding ways and means to get approval from Congress to finance these projects,” said the official.
Keeping in view the damages caused by Nato containers, the National Highway Authority (NHA) Saturday estimated that $1.6 billion would be required for the rehabilitation of roads.
Pakistan initially demanded $5,000 per container, as this cost involved the shipping cost of goods beginning in the US. For goods coming from the Northern routes, 55 to 60 percent of the journey takes place via the land route, while 40 to 45 percent takes place via the sea route.
With Nato goods coming from Pakistan, however, almost 80 to 85 percent of the journey takes place by sea while the remaining 15 to 20 percent of the travelling takes place on land, which is more cost effective and cheaper when compared to the alternate routes available to Nato forces. When Finance Ministry Spokesman Rana Assad Amin was asked about the restoration of the Nato supply line, he said he was not aware about the subject, nor was he a part of ongoing talks.