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June 12, 2012

U.S. backs away from Pakistan road talks

Gen. Ashqaf Kayani,the commander of the Pakistani military. (UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg)

WASHINGTON (UPI) -- The United States said it was bringing its negotiators home from Pakistan after they failed to negotiate the reopening of NATO supply roads into Afghanistan.

Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters Monday that while the primary U.S. negotiators were in the process of returning to the United States, military representatives in Pakistan would continue trying to strike a deal to reopen the vital roads.

"The members of the team that are leaving, or have left, are prepared to return to Islamabad at any moment to continue discussions in person," said Little. "Both sides would like to be able to reopen the ground supply routes … . There are some specific issues that need to be worked through."

The Wall Street Journal said the recall order was given after Pakistan refused to arrange a meeting between senior Defense Department official Peter Lavoy and Gen. Ashqaf Kayani, the commander of the Pakistani military.

The supply lines were shut down by Pakistan after a "friendly fire" air strike by NATO warplanes last fall killed 24 Pakistani soldiers manning a position on the Afghan border.

The talks had been focused recently on Pakistan's demand for a sharp hike in the tariff charged for cargo passing though Pakistan on its way to NATO bases in Afghanistan. The Journal also noted new tensions in recent weeks over U.S. drone attacks inside Pakistan and U.S. criticism of Pakistan's efforts against Haqqani insurgents operating in Afghanistan.

The shutdown has not left NATO forces cut off or caused any significant delays in planes for troop withdrawals. The Hill said the alliance last week announced it had struck deals with neighboring Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to move troops and equipment out of Afghanistan through their territory.

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