ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan will immediately reopen a vital supply route for NATO forces in Afghanistan 10 days after it was shut following a cross-border air strike by NATO forces, the Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.
The United States apologized to Pakistan on Wednesday for the September 30 raid that killed two Pakistani soldiers, raising hopes that Pakistan would reopen the Torkham border crossing in the northwest for transporting supplies for NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Militants in Pakistan have attacked convoys of tankers since the incursion to try to disrupt supplies. In the latest such attack, gunmen in the southwest set fire to nearly 30 tankers parked at a roadside restaurant early on Saturday.
Pakistan had closed the Torkham route passing through the Khyber Pass soon after the cross-border incursion killed the soldiers. Authorities cited security reasons.
“After assessing the security situation in all its aspects, the government has decided to reopen the NATO/ISAF supply from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border at Torkham with immediate effect,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“Our relevant authorities are now in the process of coordinating with authorities on the other side of the border to ensure smooth resumption of the supply traffic.”
Richard Snelsire, the U.S. embassy spokesman, said Washington welcomed the reopening of the border crossing, and called it “a positive development.”
An embassy official, speaking on background, said trucks would likely start moving into Afghanistan on Monday.
The helicopter strike that sparked the border row was the most serious of recent cross-border incidents involving NATO-led forces fighting in Afghanistan, which have stoked tensions with Pakistan.
The U.S. ambassador described the incursion as a terrible accident.
Saturday’s attack on the tanker trucks was the sixth in recent days. A second supply route passing through southwestern Pakistan has remained open.
Trucking routes through Pakistan bring in around 40 percent of supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan, according to the United States Transportation Command. Of the remainder, 40 percent come through Afghanistan’s neighbors in the north and 20 percent by air.
Most of the NATO supplies in Pakistan come through the northwest where Pakistani security forces have been battling a growing insurgency by militants linked to al Qaeda and Taliban.
The United States has been pressing Pakistan to take a harder line against militants launching cross-border attacks from their Pakistani safe havens in the northwest on Western forces in Afghanistan.
An alleged al Qaeda plot to attack European targets has put Pakistan’s performance against militants under further scrutiny.
The United States has also stepped up missile strikes against al Qaeda and Taliban militants by pilotless drones in Pakistan’s lawless northwestern border regions in recent weeks.
On Friday night, at least five militants were killed in the latest such strike in the North Waziristan tribal region.
Editing by Chris Allbritton and Ron Popeski
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