to a U.S. Senate appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday, U.S.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that a lack of ground supply
routes for NATO efforts in Afghanistan going through Pakistan -- which
have been closed since November 2011 -- are costing the U.S. $100
million per month (NYT, ABC).
Before they were suspended, the "Ground lines of communication"
(GLOCs), as the supply routes are sometimes known, were responsible for
approximately 30 percent of NATO's supplies to Afghanistan. On the
sidelines of Thursday's regional conference in Afghanistan (see below), U.S. Deputy
Secretary of State William Burns (who was in Kabul as an observer for
the U.S., which didn't have a direct role in the meeting) is expected to
meet with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to continue
discussions on trying to secure a deal on the routes. Several
U.S. officials have suggested that a complicating point in the ongoing
negotiations was that Pakistan sought highly inflated tariffs on
transport in order to re-open the routes. For her part, Khar said on
Wednesday that Pakistan merely sought an apology from the U.S. for the
November 2011 strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers (ET).
A Pakistani official speaking anonymously said that "once the US
tenders an apology, the issue of taxes and transit fees will be settled
in no time."
Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Rand Paul was blocked on Wednesday by Senate majority leader Harry Reid from introducing an amendment to a bill that would have ended all U.S. assistance to Pakistan until Shakil Afridi, the imprisoned doctor who provided the U.S. with intelligence in the Osama bin-Laden raid, was released (ET, Dawn).
Elsewhere, according to Pakistani officials, a U.S. drone strike on Thursday killed 4 militants in their compound in the town of Miranshah, located in North Waziristan in Pakistan's tribal region (CNN, AFP, ET, AP). The strike came one day after a separate drone strike on Wednesday, also in Miranshah, killed 4 suspected militants as they drove in their vehicle. The two incidents are the first and second drone strikes since a missile on June 4 killed 15 militants in North Waziristan, including then al-Qaeda second-in-command Abu Yahya al-Libi.
Kabul conference aims at Afghan stabilization
A group of 15 countries met in Kabul on Thursday to discuss a number of regional security issues, paramount among them the stabilization and future of Afghanistan (WaPo, Dawn, ET). It is the second meeting of the so-called ‘Heart of Asia' countries, who met previously in November in Istanbul, and which includes Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, China, and India. While the topics discussed were widespread and regional, the focus on Afghanistan's future after the 2014 NATO pull-out loomed large. Of particular salience were ongoing discussions regarding peace talks with the Taliban. Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to continue their help on this front, and indicated that Salahuddin Rabbani, the head of the high peace council -- the Afghan body tasked with leading the peace process with the Taliban -- would soon travel to the two countries. Rabbani is the son of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed by a Taliban suicide bomber in September of 2011. The group plans to meet for a follow-up conference in Tokyo next month.
Green shoots for Balochistan?
Ravaged by years of militancy, internecine violence, and separatism, Balochistan is being seen by Pakistan's leadership now as a hopeful place for trade that might begin a process of renewal. To that end, the government has opened up to border crossing points, one with Afghanistan and the other with Iran, and hopes to open more as a part of creating additional ‘vital links' to transform the province into a transit route (ET).