Pakistan’s decision, after months of political posturing and delicate negotiations, is likely to ease strains between Washington and Islamabad. For its renewed cooperation, Pakistan would reap higher tariffs and a payout of at least $1.3 billion in withheld “coalition support funds” for its contribution to the fight against Islamist militants.
Officials on both sides say the agreement will not provide Pakistan the full apology it wants for an incident in which U.S. fighter jets and helicopters mistakenly bombed two outposts on the border with Afghanistan in November, killing 24 Pakistani soldiers. The deaths prompted Pakistan to seal the borders.
But for traders such as Baz Muhammad Afridi, happy days will return when the blockade ends. Afridi, 46, who vends looted goods in a bazaar on the outskirts of Peshawar known informally as “the U.S. market,” nearly abandoned his business because of dwindling stock.
Afridi said he sold food, daggers, computers and engineering equipment pillaged from supply convoys. “We were getting quality goods, technological gadgets and American flags at very reasonable prices,” he said Tuesday.
“But the supply suspension nearly stopped our business, and it becomes hard to meet even daily expenses,” he said. “Lower-middle-class people like me will be happy with the reopening of NATO supply lines.”
On the macroeconomic level, Islamabad needs help, too. The $1.3 billion has been penciled into the proposed budget, according to Finance Ministry officials.
And there are other beneficiaries. The Pakistani military — sometimes called Army Inc. because of its sizable stake in commerce, corporations and land holdings — indirectly controls 30 percent of the NATO oil tanker contracts, according to local transporter associations. The military, which played the key role in the NATO-provisioning negotiations with U.S. and Afghan army commanders last weekend, declined to comment on its share of the supply business.
Tribal-area militants will profit, too: They demand protection money from the companies that haul the freight. And they launch attacks to get their slice of what’s inside the steel sea-shipping containers that begin their journey at the port of Karachi and travel hundreds of miles through perilous territory.
“Even the Taliban is the beneficiary. . . . They get weapons and ammunition when they attack the containers,” said a black-market trader in NATO goods, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of Taliban reprisals. “This is one of the financial sources of the militants.”