(CBS NEWS) ISLAMABAD - Pakistan may be close to re-opening a critical land supply route for U.S. military cargo heading into Afghanistan, ending a difficult dispute with Washington, two senior Pakistani government officials told CBS News.
The officials quoted recent confidential communication between key government agencies, which suggest that the country may be days or just weeks away from lifting a four-month Pakistani ban on cargo trucks carrying supplies to U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The ban was implemented in November after 26 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a NATO helicopter strike, which struck two Pakistan army posts near the Afghan border.
In public, Pakistan's senior leaders, including Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, have said the decision on future relations with the U.S., including the supply route, rests with a committee of the Pakistani parliament on national security which is debating the matter.
But the two Pakistani officials who spoke to CBS News both confirmed that discussions were at an advanced stage over the financial terms surrounding future cargo trucks to be driven through Pakistan.
"The decision appears to have been made. We are going to resume supplies but probably charge a fee for the wear and tear of Pakistan's roads and infrastructure," a senior Pakistani foreign ministry official told CBS News on condition of anonymity. "The position now is not to keep the ban in place. In fact, internally within the government we are actively discussing ways to lift the ban."
A Pakistani intelligence official who also spoke to CBS News on background as he was not authorized to speak to journalists said: "Details of the number of trucks, which will go through Pakistan on any given day, and a rough estimate of their cargo are being discussed. This seems like advanced preparation for reopening of the route."
A senior European diplomat based in Islamabad who also spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity said resumption of the supply route appeared to have the support of the country's influential army led by General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the army's chief of staff.
In the decade after Pakistan joined the U.S. led global war on terror after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the U.S. has compensated Pakistan for its costs on targeting Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants on its side of the border through payments under what was known as the coalition support fund (CSF).
But in the past two years, Pakistani officials have repeatedly complained of delays in receiving compensation under the CSF. The European diplomat said "the army now seems to think, it would be best to charge a higher tariff on the trucks rather than wait for the U.S. to compensate Pakistan. Pakistan probably sees this as a quicker way to earn revenue, which will also fund its war [against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban]."