US pulls negotiators from Pakistan with no supply deal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said yesterday it was withdrawing its team of negotiators from Pakistan without securing a long-sought deal on supply routes for the war in Afghanistan, publicly exposing a diplomatic stalemate and deeply strained relations that appear at risk of deteriorating further.
Pakistan banned trucks from carrying supplies to the war effort in neighboring Afghanistan last year to protest a cross-border NATO air attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, a measure US officials initially hoped would be short term.
That strike fanned national anger over everything from covert CIA drone strikes to the US incursion into Pakistan last year to kill al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and the supply routes evolved into a lightning-rod issue between the two countries.
After six weeks of negotiations that at least once appeared close to a deal, the Pentagon acknowledged that the team had failed to clinch an accord and was coming home.
“I believe that some of the team left over the weekend and the remainder of the team will leave shortly,” Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters. They could return to Pakistan at any time, if warranted, he added.
With the Pakistan routes unavailable, NATO has turned to countries to the north of Afghanistan for more expensive, longer land routes. Resupplying troops in Afghanistan through the northern route is about 2-1/2 times more expensive than shipping items through Pakistan, a US defense official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The announcement about the negotiators came just days after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the United States was reaching the limits of its patience because of safe havens Pakistan offered to Islamist insurgents, who are attacking US forces across the border in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s envoy to the United States had warned that Panetta’s comments last Thursday in Kabul were unhelpful to efforts to narrow the differences between the two countries and came at a critical moment in negotiations.