Though a team of U.S. negotiators is returning home after several weeks of discussing reopening ground supply routes in Pakistan, the talks are not mired, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said June 11.
In November, Pakistan closed ground routes that had been used to resupply forces in Afghanistan after a NATO airstrike accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers earlier in the month.
“The [ground lines of communication] remain an open issue,” Little told reporters. “We’ve not reached a resolution yet with the Pakistanis on reopening the ground supply routes. We hope to resolve the issue soon. We haven’t gotten to ‘yes’ yet, but this is something we’re going to continue to work very hard [on] with our Pakistani counterparts.”
Officials will continue to work through the office of the defense representative in Pakistan to try to resolve the matter, Little said. “We will continue to have dialogue,” he added, “so while the issue is not resolved, the talking has not stalled.”
The press secretary emphasized that the negotiating team’s departure from Pakistan shouldn’t be taken as a sign of unwillingness to continue the dialogue.
“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,” he said. Little said he thinks there is agreement, in concept, that the supply routes can be reopened. “Both sides would like to be able to reopen the ground supply routes,” he said. “There are some specific issues that need to [be] worked through.”
Although it’s possible to continue the mission in Afghanistan without the Pakistani ground supply routes, Little said, having them open would provide more options and would be less expensive.
“The more options you have available to you when you’re mounting a major logistics effort like supplying the war effort in Afghanistan, and in bringing people and equipment out, the better,” he said.
Little said the decision for the U.S. team to leave Pakistan was independent of Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s comments reflecting frustration over Pakistan serving as a safe haven for terrorists.
“The comments … were largely directed at the problem of the Haqqani network and the safe haven in Pakistan,” he noted. “We’ve made our concerns known for a very long time about the safe havens in Pakistan, and the ability of the Haqqani network to cross the border and conduct attacks inside Afghanistan. The secretary’s remarks on the trip were focused [on that].”
Little said the Haqqani network’s ability to conduct operations inside Afghanistan remains a “very serious concern” for the United States.
“We believe that it’s important, as [Panetta] indicated, that the Pakistanis do their part, on their side of the border, to stop the Haqqanis from mounting operations,” he said.
“This is something we need to work through with the Pakistanis,” he added. “We believe that we can establish a relationship that produces the kind of action we believe is required on their side of the border.”