NATO Hopes for Reopening of Supply Routes Through Pakistan

NATO hopes for a quick reopening of blocked supply routes through Pakistan because the 5-week closure is damaging the economies of both Afghanistan and Pakistan, an alliance officer said Monday.

Pakistan shut the routes, which NATO uses to ship about 40 percent of the supplies for its forces in landlocked Afghanistan, after alliance airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani border troops in November.

The U.S. expressed regret over the deaths. The incident drove U.S.-Pakistani relations further into a tailspin, adding to Pakistani outrage over the U.S. raid that killed Al Qaeda founder Usama bin Laden in May and drone strikes that have killed civilians, all without informing Pakistan in advance.

Pakistan is a key ally in the fight against Islamic militants in neighboring Afghanistan.

Prominent Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban fighters have asked Pakistani militants to set aside differences and step up support for the battle against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taliban commanders said Monday that the request came during two meetings in Pakistan's tribal region in November and December. The did not disclose what their response was.

NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson said the military coalition has a stockpile of supplies that can keep operations in Afghanistan running at their current level even if routes through Pakistan remain closed.

Afghan merchants have complained that their imports have also been affected by the closure of NATO traffic. They say the resulting shortages have driven up prices of staples four, sugar, rice and other staples.

"We have reason to wish the reopening of the routes," Jacobson said. "We are aware that the present situation on the border has a negative effect on both economies."

The coalition has reduced its dependence on Pakistan over the last two years by developing alternate routes to Afghanistan through Russia and Central Asia.

In a sign that NATO fears the closure might last longer than expected, it has been arranging for its equipment to be shipped back to Europe through the northern route. The alliance is in the process of drawing down its forces and helping the Afghan army and police prepare to take over responsibility for security by 2014, when it plans to end its combat role.

Jacobson and Afghan military spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said the handover was proceeding well. This is despite repeated incidents in which Afghan soldiers have shot their foreign advisers.

On Thursday, an Afghan army soldier shot and killed two French Foreign Legionnaires, the latest in a series of attacks by members of Afghan security forces against their coalition partners. The shootings have raised fears of Taliban infiltration as NATO speeds up the training of Afghan security forces.

Jacobson said the incidents all had different causes and backgrounds and were not an indication of guerrilla activity within the Afghan army's ranks.

"We do not see a campaign or an orchestrated operation that leads to this kind of operation from the side of the insurgency." he said.

If the current phrase of transition is completed by next summer as planned, the Afghan army and police will be providing security to about half of the country's population. Nimroz province, about 500 miles southwest of Kabul, will become the latest to start transitioning to Afghan control on Tuesday, officials said.

Also Monday, four Afghan civilians were killed in two explosions in eastern Logar province, official said.

The first took place in Puli Alim the capital city of Logar province and killed three civilians. Their vehicle drove over a land mine, said Din Mohammad Darwesh, spokesman for the provincial governor.

In Baraki Barak district in the same province, a roadside bomb killed the driver of a passing car, he said.