Pakistan seeks $5,000 transit fee for each NATO container

Pakistani negotiators have proposed a fee of about $5,000 for each NATO shipping container and tanker that transits its territory by land into and out of Afghanistan.

The amount is a key sticking point in discussions about the terms of a deal that would allow the traffic to resume, about six months after Pakistan closed its border crossings, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.

Officials said Tuesday that a deal was imminent, after they reached agreement in principal on reopening the transit corridors. But the details are being negotiated.

“The framework is ready, but we are now looking at rates,” a Pakistani official said.

A U.S. official emphasized that the United States has not agreed to any figure.

According to officials from both countries, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the closed-door negotiations here, Pakistan proposed the figure after calculating its total outlays for damaged infrastructure — primarily wear and tear on its roads from the heavy vehicles — as well as security costs and a new tariff.

Pakistani officials said they had also taken into account their belief that NATO, by using alternative, far longer transport routes through Central Asia, is paying at least double the amount they have requested.

Nonetheless, the notion of payment for using what are known as the Pakistani GLOCs, for Ground Lines of Communication, has been difficult for the Pentagon to swallow, because access previously was considered free. But other U.S. officials have pointed out that the United States has given Pakistan billions over the past decade as compensation for its counterterrorism efforts. That money is expected to be discontinued as the new arrangements are put in place.

Pakistan says it is still owed more than $3 billion for past operations; the United States puts the figure at about $1.3 billion.

The transport agreement is being considered as a matter separate from other aspects of the bilateral security relationship, including Pakistan’s rejection of U.S. drone attacks on militants inside its borders. Discussions on that issue are continuing between senior intelligence officials.

Pakistan closed its borders to the shipments after a U.S. air raid in November along the Afghan border left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead. A U.S. military investigation concluded that both sides were at fault, and the United States expressed regret. But Pakistan called it an unprovoked attack and demanded an apology.

Before the closures, more than 70 percent of NATO’s supplies in Afghanistan — largely paid for and utilized by the United States — traveled over land from the Pakistani port of Karachi. The route has become even more important to U.S. and coalition forces as they begin the combat troop withdrawal scheduled for completion by the end of 2014.

The pullout will be discussed at a NATO summit in Chicago this weekend. The alliance invited Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to the summit this week once it became clear that a transit agreement was near.

Some analysts here speculated that Zardari might wait to announce in Chicago any new deal with NATO. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s unwieldy cabinet — 53 ministers in all — took up the matter but ended the day with no decision except to reinforce the Parliament’s recommendation that shipments contain no weaponry or lethal supplies.

U.S. officials noted that the parliamentary recommendations being debated referred only to nonlethal supplies traveling into Afghanistan but proposed no such restriction on outgoing goods.

Although Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira told reporters after the Wednesday meeting that “no decision on NATO supplies will be made under any pressure,” the government here is eager to resolve the issue, which has left thousands of containers sitting in lots near two border crossings and idled countless Pakistani transport and other workers.

DeYoung reported from Washington.

Richard Leiby is a senior writer in Post’s Style section. His previous assignments have included Pakistan Bureau Chief, and reporter, columnist and editor in Washington. He joined The Post in 1991.
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