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Pakistan and the United States have reached agreement to reopen the strategic land supply routes from Pakistan into Afghanistan. Pakistan closed those routes last November after a U.S. attack left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead. Pakistan had wanted a formal apology from the U.S. but the administration refused because it believed American troops had come under fire first from the Pakistani side. But yesterday, Secretary of State Clinton made comments that finally broke the logjam.
NPR's Mike Shuster has more from Islamabad.
MIKE SHUSTER, BYLINE: The incident at the Salala post, as it's known here, threatened to undermine the already strained relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan. It's resolution was long overdue, but very hard to come by says retired General Talat Masood, now a security and military analyst.
TALAT MASOOD: This has been pending for the last eight months, and I thought they wanted to revive the relationship (unintelligible) the U.S., it had got very strained, and this was one of the major issues between the two countries.
SHUSTER: The two sides had held talks and tried to find the right language to end the crisis and move on, but at bottom, the U.S. would not provide what the government of Pakistan wanted, a formal apology. The negotiations intensified over the past week, with General John Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides making two trips here to talk with Pakistani civilian and military leaders.
In the end, Secretary of State Clinton telephoned Pakistan's foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar. Clinton said the U.S. was sorry that the incident had occurred and that the U.S. government regretted the loss of life. Nowhere in the statement was the word apology to be found. State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said yesterday the two governments acknowledged that mistakes were made on both sides.
VICTORIA NULAND: We are back on track in terms of being able to support the NATO mission, and we had the opportunity to get onto other aspects of our shared interest in defeating terrorists wherever they are, Afghanistan, Pakistan, et cetera.
SHUSTER: This incident occurred after a series of episodes that left Pakistan's relationship with the U.S. in terrible shape. Most important was the raid last year that ended with the death of Osama bin Laden. Pakistan's government and military were deeply embarrassed that bin Laden had been living for years inside Pakistan, and that U.S. had taken unilateral action to kill him. Then the American attack at Salala made everything worse says Talat Masood.
MASOOD: They were moving in a direction which was very dangerous, in the sense that it was more of a confrontation, and that would have been disastrous for Pakistan at this point of time, or for that matter, any time.
SHUSTER: As part of the agreement, the U.S. will pay more than a billion dollars compensation to Pakistan's government, but the U.S. will not pay what it considered an exorbitant fee, $5,000 that Pakistan was demanding for each truck crossing into Afghanistan. In the past, that fee was $250. This will not be a popular development for many ordinary Pakistanis who view the U.S. with disdain, if not outright hatred.
Critics of the deal called the decision to reopen the supply roots a big crime against Pakistan. Some are threatening to block the roads into Afghanistan. And already, leaders of the Taliban in Pakistan have vowed to attack the truck convoys. Retired General Masood says Pakistan's army will have to get involved in providing security for the convoys.
MASOOD: Yes. I think we should not minimize this threat, and Pakistan army should take precautions to ensure that this does not happen. In the past, the security arrangements had been left mostly to the Americans themselves to employ civilian guards and so on. So I think the government will have to play a much bigger role this time.
SHUSTER: The truck convoys are expected to be moving into Afghanistan by the weekend. Mike Shuster, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.