In her statement, Clinton noted that Pakistan would not charge any new fees for the containers, an issue that had dominated the drawn-out negotiations at one point, with Pakistan insisting on a payment of $5,000 per truck.
“This is a tangible demonstration of Pakistan’s support for a secure, peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan and our shared objectives in the region” and will result in “a much lower cost” for withdrawing U.S. troops, Clinton said.
About 90,000 American combat troops, and 40,000 from NATO and other countries, are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The senior administration official said U.S. negotiators had told Pakistan that they would notify Congress to release more than $1 billion in withheld funds for Pakistani counterterrorism operations. Pakistan has said that it is owed more than $3 billion as part of an existing U.S. agreement to reimburse Pakistan for its expenses.
But money was never the main issue, Pakistani analysts said. “It was a matter of honor for the army,” said Laiq ur-Rehman, defense correspondent for ARY News, a cable channel. “The only word they were looking for was ‘sorry.’ It was a matter of pride, a matter of honor, a matter of ego.”
“If it had been about the money, it would have been done months ago,” said the source knowledgeable about the negotiations. “Just like for us, it was not just about the supply routes.”
Final agreement on the wording of Clinton’s statement came after a week of marathon talks that included two trips to Islamabad by Gen. John R. Allen, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and a quickly arranged weekend trip by Thomas R. Nides, the deputy secretary of state for management and resources. In recent weeks, Nides and Pakistani Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh had spearheaded the negotiations.
The senior administration official said that agreement on financial issues was reached last week and that the wording of the statement was decided Monday. “Everybody had been circling around this for some time,” the official said. “It took everybody to say, ‘Okay, let’s do this.’ ”
On the U.S. side, the White House and the Pentagon had long rebuffed State Department entreaties to utter what one U.S. diplomat called “the ‘sorry’ word.” They insisted that an apology was not merited because both countries were at fault in the Nov. 26 incident. A U.S. military investigation said the soldiers’ deaths were inadvertent and resulted from a skirmish in which the Pakistanis fired first at U.S. ground forces near the border in Afghanistan. Pakistan has disputed that conclusion, saying its forces did not fire first.
Although the Pakistani military had publicly deferred to the civilian government in Islamabad to make a decision on the border closings — and a parliamentary committee determined that an apology was necessary — Allen and Nides held private meetings with Kayani before the final deal was reached.
Allen issued a statement Tuesday that was similar to Clinton’s, calling the agreement “a demonstration of Pakistan’s desire to help secure a brighter future for both Afghanistan and the region at large.”
But the decision also carries the prospect of another public backlash in Pakistan, where opposition to U.S. policies remains strong.
As the container trucks got ready to move, the Defense Council of Pakistan, a coalition of Islamic parties that includes pro-Taliban clerics and other foes of the NATO routes, vowed civil disobedience to stop the convoys.
“The decision to reopen NATO supplies is a big crime against the country, and we will not sit silently over this,” retired Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, a leader of the group and a former chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, told the Pakistani cable channel Express News. “We will come to roads and streets and protest against the decision and will also try to stop the supplies.”
Leiby reported from Islamabad.