Pakistani port officials have begun preparations for the reopening of a major land-based supply route for NATO convoys heading into Afghanistan, the clearest indication yet that the country is close to reversing a ban imposed in November last year after 26 of its soldiers were killed in an errant U.S. helicopter strike.
"We have now been ordered to prepare for a resumption of the trucks for NATO supplies to Afghanistan," a senior port official in Kararchi told CBS News Thursday on condition of anonymity.
The government of President Asif Ali Zardari, however, says the final decision on when to drop the ban on NATO traffic rests with the Pakistani parliament, which next meets for a full session on Saturday. The convening offers a possible stage for the official announcement that the border crossings will be reopened.
"We are working on the assumption that we may receive orders to start the resumption of supplies," said the port official. "Within 48 hours of receiving our orders, NATO's traffic will resume," he added.
A Pakistani intelligence official in Karachi, who also insisted on anonymity as he spoke to CBS News without permission, said, "the reopening of the supply route is looking very likely," but he also could not give a clear timeframe. He added that it now seemed, "the army and civilian politicians want to close this episode."
Pakistan's parliament - which Zardari's government handed responsibility for all decisions on ties with the U.S. amid the backlash over the deadly airstrike - has twice been expected to make its recommendation to drop the ban on NATO convoys already, only to delay the move.
Pakistani officials have cited concern over the danger of a public backlash to the reopening of the route, and the likely decision to do so now comes after a tumultuous few weeks for the U.S.-led war in neighboring Afghanistan.
Concern over violent backlash mounted in the wake of public protests in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan following the burning of Korans by U.S. soldiers at a sprawling base in Afghanistan, and then the alleged massacre of 16 Afghan civilians by a U.S. army soldier.
The indications from officials in Pakistan now are that the route will be reopened, assuming nothing else major happens between now and an official announcement to derail any agreement reached between the U.S., its NATO partners, and Islamabad.