- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 31, 2012

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan and the United States have signed a deal regulating the shipment of American troop supplies to and from Afghanistan, prompting Washington to agree to release more than $1 billion in frozen military aid.

The developments Tuesday represent the formal end to a crisis between the two countries that started in November, when Pakistan closed its border to supplies meant for U.S. and other NATO troops in Afghanistan in retaliation for American airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Pakistan reopened the route running overland through its territory from the southern port of Karachi to the Afghan border in early July after the U.S. apologized for the deaths, which the Americans said were an accident. But it took several more weeks for the two sides to finalize the new agreement.

The deal codifies a largely informal arrangement for the past decade that has allowed the international coalition to truck supplies through Pakistan.

Pakistan pushed for a written pact during months of negotiations, and it is expected to be extended to other NATO countries.

U.S. Charge d’Affaires Richard Hoagland, who signed the agreement for the U.S., called it a “concrete, very positive step.”

“Of course it’s clear to our political leadership in both capitals … that we have a number of other issues to work on,” said Mr. Hoagland at the signing ceremony at the Pakistani Ministry of Defense in Rawalpindi.

The dispute over the supply route brought the already troubled U.S.-Pakistan relationship close to the breaking point, complicating U.S. efforts to wrap up the war in Afghanistan.

Pakistan is seen as key to getting the Taliban back to reconciliation talks aimed at ending the 11-year Afghan war.

The route through Pakistan will be vital to the scheduled withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2014, one of the reasons Washington finally agreed to Islamabad’s demand that it apologize for the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers.

The U.S. had to compensate for the temporary closure by using a longer route into Afghanistan through Central Asia that cost an additional $100 million per month.

The new agreement applies to U.S. supplies that have not yet arrived in Pakistan, not the thousands of containers that have been stuck in the country for months and have started moving slowly across the border into Afghanistan.

It also spells out the terms for the tens of thousands of containers that will be needed to pull U.S. equipment and supplies out of Afghanistan.

The resumption of supply shipments through Pakistan in the past few weeks has been slowed by bureaucratic delays, disputes over compensation and security concerns.

One of the two crossings used to ship NATO supplies has been closed for the past several days as officials work with the Pakistani military to come up with a plan to protect against Taliban attacks.

The new deal prohibits the U.S. from shipping weapons by land through Pakistan — as demanded by the country’s parliament — unless intended for Afghan national security forces, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by the Associated Press.

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