The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan pointed to indications today that Pakistan is preparing to open cross-border NATO supply lines into Afghanistan.
Speaking by video teleconference, Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, told the sixth annual 2012 Joint Warfighting Conference he would welcome the move as well as improved relations with Pakistan for the stability of the region.
“There have been in the last several days, some very important signals coming out of Islamabad that there is a consideration to re-open the ground lines of communication, and we, frankly, would welcome that, we would applaud that decision,” Allen said. “It would, in fact, be helpful to us if the ground lines of communication were opened, not just because of what could flow into Afghanistan but what could flow out of Afghanistan.”
Relations between ISAF and Pakistan have been strained since a November 26 engagement near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border left 24 Pakistani soldiers martyred. Pakistan closed ISAF ground supply lines into Afghanistan in response. Allen noted the closing of the routes has not affected the ISAF mission.
“I will tell you the effect of the closure of that route on the campaign has not slowed us at all,” he said. “The air bridge into Afghanistan and the flow of materiel across the Northern Distribution Network were modulated in a way that continued to support the campaign in every operational respect.”
He said there has been a general review by the Pakistani Parliament of relations with the United States and some “very hopeful signs”.
Allen also said Pakistan has “paid a great price” in fighting terrorism on its own soil. “I have to take a few minutes to honor the sacrifices of the Pakistani military who have fought across the border from us against their own insurgent elements.”
Pakistani casualties in just the last two years, Allen said, far exceed ISAF casualties in the entire 10 years of the Afghan war. “The numbers of their troops that have been wounded by IEDs, the civilians who have been killed by suicide bombers – the price has been very high in Pakistan as well,” he said. “And often, that has been overlooked.”
There have been occasions when ISAF and Pakistan have conducted “coordinated operations” along the border for a common interest in security, although “there haven’t been any for a couple years now,” he said.
“So I would say that over the next several months, we may well see, between ISAF and the Afghan national security forces and the Pakistani military, an ability to work very closely to ensure that we can coordinate operations along the border,” Allen said, ensuring an avoidance of any new cross-border incidents.
Allen said he believes there could “conceivably” be coordinated operations between ISAF, Afghanistan and Pakistan to ensure “a stable, peaceful and secure Afghanistan.”
“My hope is, in the weeks and months ahead, we can leverage all of that opportunity for common ground, both to improve the relationship at a policy level, but certainly to improve the military to military relationship as well,” he said.