US, Pakistan talks on supply lines continue, despite NATO deal

NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen announced that the alliance secured agreements with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to begin moving weapons and troops out of Afghanistan through those Central Asian nations. 

"These agreements will give us a range of new options and the robust and flexible transport network we need. I thank all three partner countries for their support," Rasmussen told reporters during a Tuesday briefing from Brussels. 

The deals were part of NATO's overall strategy "to actively engage with Afghanistan's neighbors" as American and NATO forces begin their exodus out of the country. However, these new deals were not a sign that NATO or American commanders were walking away from efforts to reopen critical supply routes located in Pakistan. 

"We continue to be in discussions with our Pakistani counterparts about ... trying to get those [routes] open, and in general trying to improve the relationship with Pakistan writ large," DOD spokesman Capt. John Kirby told reporters Tuesday at the Pentagon. 

He noted the Pentagon has its own chain of supply routes in Central Asia, known as the Northern Distribution Network, and continually uses those lines to move men and materiel to and from Afghanistan. 

That said, "I would not take the pursuit of this deal and this agreement as any kind of repudiation of the importance of those [routes] or the larger relationship with Pakistan," said Kirby. 

Islamabad shut down the supply routes to U.S. and coalition forces last November after a number of Pakistani soldiers were killed in an errant airstrike by American forces. 

Since then, ongoing negotiations to unblock the routes have yielded little to no progress. 

American and Pakistani negotiators were reportedly close to a deal weeks before NATO's annual summit in Chicago in May; all indications coming out of Pakistan prior to the NATO summit was that the deal was all but complete. 

But an eleventh-hour demand by Pakistan to increase the price-per-truck cost to the United States and its allies to move through supplies through the country, as well as other issues, brought negotiations to a grinding halt. 

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani reportedly sat down in Kabul in May in an attempt to break the impasse over the supply routes. 

But pressure within the administration to get those routes back open has grown significantly, since the White House announced its plans to have all American forces out of Afghanistan by 2014. 

Nearly 32,000 U.S. troops are scheduled to leave the country this summer. The remaining 68,000 soldiers will be gone a year after that. 

U.S. military planners are already exploring options on how to move the mountain of metal American forces have accumulated in Afghanistan over a decade in combat. 

Access to those Pakistani routes is widely considered a critical piece to the Pentagon's Afghan withdrawal strategy.