Pakistan may tax ground shipments to NATO troops

Afghanistan-bound trucks carrying supplies for NATO forces are parked as authorities closed the border at Torkham, in Pakistan, Sunday, Nov 27, 2011.
AP Photo/Qazi Rauf
Afghanistan-bound trucks stopped at Pakistani border
Afghanistan-bound trucks carrying supplies for NATO forces parked as authorities close the border at Torkham border post in Pakistan, Nov 27, 2011.

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan is considering plans to slap millions of dollars in new charges on future supplies taken through the country's land route for U.S.-backed Western troops in Afghanistan, senior Pakistani government officials and a minister have told CBS News.

The payments are being considered in the name of costs such as for "inspection of cargo" and "maintenance of infrastructure" worn down by trucks.

Though the exact scale of funds planned to be earned remains unclear, senior Western diplomats warned that the move could further strain Pakistan's already troubled ties with the U.S.-led international security assistance force or ISAF in Afghanistan.

On Thursday, findings of a U.S. military investigation in to a helicopter raid on two of Pakistan's army posts near the Afghan border on November 26th, found a lack of trust between the U.S. and Pakistan.

U.S.: Mistrust and mistakes led to Pakistani deaths

The killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in that attack prompted an unprecedented wave of protests from the country's civil and military officials. A senior Pakistani government official who spoke on background and discussed the new charges under consideration, said "we want to have a productive relationship with the U.S. and other friends in the Western camp. But unlike the past, every service that we perform will have to be paid for at a realistic price."

Western diplomats warned that Pakistan's demand for charging large sums of money on cargo for Afghanistan will not help improve its trust with its partners, including the U.S.

"The issue is not just financial. The problem is, we don't know how this plan (for higher charges) will play itself out diplomatically," one senior Western diplomat in Islamabad told CBS News on condition of anonymity. "I fear this plan will keep Pakistan locked in its currently strained relationship (with the U.S.-led western alliance) because the message from Pakistan will be a negative one."

Though Pakistan hasn't specified a timeline for resumption of the truck facility, the Pakistani government officials and a minister who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity, said they expect it to be resumed within weeks.

"Nobody wants to keep the facility shut forever. The bigger question now is, what will be the conditions attached for the future," said a senior government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Pakistani government minister who also spoke on condition that he will not be named said "a decision has been reached in principal that when the supply route is re-opened, the trucks will have to bear a realistic cost which will go to the Pakistani government. In the past, each supply truck contributed less than $10 for passage through Pakistan. This is not realistic any more."

Meanwhile, Pakistan's foreign ministry officials defended a parliamentary review of the truck facility for Afghanistan. "Obviously, one thing is very clear that this exercise is not to wreck our relations with any particular country. This exercise is to streamline our cooperation on such a sensitive issue," said Abdul Basit, the spokesman of the foreign ministry in Islamabad.

In recent days, Pakistani officials have complained privately that Islamabad's hardening attitude towards the terms for future relations with its Afghanistan-based Western allies is driven in part by what it sees as punitive steps taken by the U.S.

"You have the United States tying future assistance to conditions like the secretary of state certifying that Islamabad is cooperating fully on counter-terrorism measures," said the Pakistani minister who spoke to CBS News. "We have lost about 40,000 people in our decade-old war on terror which we began when the U.S. attacked Afghanistan. The Americans still want us to prove that we are genuine in our efforts. What could be bigger nonsense than this?" asked the Pakistani minister.