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Challenges loom in U.S.-Pakistan ties
Recent accord to end blockade could ease tensions
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s decision to end a seven-month blockade of NATO troop supplies was a rare bright spot in relations with the United States, but disagreements over other key issues still hamper a relationship vital to stabilizing neighboring Afghanistan.
Even before Pakistan shut down the supply line in November in retaliation for American airstrikes that killed 24 of its troops, the relationship was plagued by anger and mistrust. Islamabad was livid with the unilateral U.S. raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011 and a CIA contractor who shot to death two Pakistanis a few months earlier.
The deadlock over NATO supplies ended Tuesday when the United States apologized for the deaths of the Pakistani troops and Islamabad agreed to reopen the route.
The accord should ease tensions somewhat, but tackling other problems could prove difficult because the long stalemate that followed the November attack intensified bad feelings in both capitals.
“Given the history of the past 12 to 18 months, there is a huge residue of mistrust and mutual suspicion,” said Tariq Fatemi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States.
“I would not rule out the possibility of a small incident derailing the normalization process.”
U.S. officials had expected the first trucks carrying NATO supplies to begin crossing into Afghanistan on Wednesday, but bureaucratic delays held that up. Trucks are now scheduled to begin moving across the border Thursday morning, although it will take days to get back to levels prior to the attack, said Pakistani security officials.
The reopening could save the United States hundreds of millions of dollars because Pakistan’s blockade forced Washington to rely more heavily on a longer, costlier route that leads into Afghanistan through Central Asia.
Pakistan is also expected to gain financially, since the U.S. intends to free up $1.1 billion in military aid that has been frozen for the past year.
But the deal carries risks for both governments.
Pakistan is likely to face domestic backlash, given rampant anti-American sentiment in the country and the government’s failure to force Washington to stop drone strikes targeting militants and accede to other demands made by parliament.
“It is an insult to our nation,” said Maulana Samiul Haq, chairman of the hard-line Difah-e-Pakistan, or Defense of Pakistan Council. “The rulers have put national interest at stake just to please America.”
Mr. Haq pledged his collection of Islamist leaders who have been the most vocal opponents to reopening the supply line will launch nationwide protests against the government’s decision.
The government also faces risk from the Pakistani Taliban, who vowed to attack trucks carrying NATO supplies once they start moving.
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