ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan will allow NATO supply convoys to cross its territory into Afghanistan until the end of 2015, one year beyond the deadline for withdrawal of U.S. combat forces there, under an agreement signed Tuesday by U.S. and Pakistani officials.
The pact seems to close, for now, one of the most contentious chapters in the turbulent relationship between Washington and Islamabad, cementing cooperation by Pakistan in winding down the war in Afghanistan, at least in terms of logistical assistance. Washington also has urged Islamabad to step up its participation in the peace process by bringing to the negotiating table militant groups that shelter in Pakistani’s tribal belt and regularly cross the border to attack NATO troops.
The memorandum of understanding signed Tuesday provides the option for both sides to extend the deal in one-year increments beyond Dec. 31, 2015. It would apply to other NATO nations if they sign separate pacts with Pakistan.
Although Pakistan ended its seven-month blockade of NATO supplies in early July, the pact formalizes some key details, including a ban on transporting lethal equipment unless it is meant for Afghan security forces. It also says that Pakistan will provide security for the thousands of container trucks and oil tankers whose routes originate at the port of Karachi.
Last week, after the war-provisioning convoys began rolling in significant numbers, Pakistan shut down one of the two routes when a trucker was fatally shot in an attack attributed to the Pakistani Taliban, which has vowed to kill anyone who drives for NATO.
Pakistani officials said Tuesday that the convoys would resume only after the routes — which span hundreds of miles — are suitably protected. Under the new arrangement, police in cities and towns would handle security until the convoys reach the restive tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, where the nation’s paramilitary Frontier Corps would take over.
The pact was signed in a ceremony in Rawalpindi by a senior Pakistani Defense Ministry official, Rear Adm. Farrokh Ahmed, and the U.S. Embassy’s charge d’affaires, Richard Hoagland.
It replaces the informal agreements that the United States reached in the past with Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s most recent military ruler, who was forced into exile in 2008 after civilians took power.
Musharraf was able to set foreign policy and forge alliances as he saw fit. The deal he struck after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States was a quid pro quo: Pakistan would cooperate in the war against terrorism, including allowing the U.S. supply routes, in exchange for billions of dollars in aid.
The United States eventually designated Pakistan a “major non-NATO ally,” but that alliance, severely tested by the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, essentially collapsed after U.S. airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at Afghan border posts in November.
The signed agreement is significant in that it appears to have been reached without overt involvement by Pakistan’s military. U.S. officials have said Pakistani generals stood back to allow civilian leaders to negotiate the pact, which proved to be a slow, politicized and unwieldy process.
Some Pakistani officials have described the NATO route agreement as a watershed moment, signaling that the “one phone call” days of Washington-Islamabad relations are over, and a sign that civilian rulers, for all their struggles in solving the nation’s social and economic ills, have a voice in foreign policy.
In a statement, the U.S. Embassy said the deal underscores the two nations’ “shared commitment to support Afghanistan and regional stability” and added, “Our countries should have a relationship that is enduring, strategic, and carefully defined.”