September 8, 2008 / 6:25 AM / 11 years ago

Pakistan reopens supply lines to Western forces

ISLAMABAD, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Pakistan has reopened supply lines to Western forces in Afghanistan, after the road through the Khyber Pass was blocked on Saturday, days after a raid by U.S. commandos on a Pakistani village, a minister said on Monday.

Rehman Malik, the top Interior Ministry official, said the road was unblocked after a few hours, and traffic had only been halted for security reasons, although the country’s defence minister had earlier said the action was taken in response to violations of Pakistani territory by Western forces.

“There was a suspension for a few hours due to security reasons but later, supplies to Afghanistan were resumed after clearing the road,” Malik told Reuters.

Militants have been attacking trucks in the Khyber Pass, on the way to Torkham, the main crossing point on the Pakistani-Afghan border near Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province.

But the move to stop tankers carrying fuel came after the new government expressed outrage over the killing of 20 people, including women and children, during a U.S. commando raid on a remote border village in Pakistani tribal lands on Sept. 3.

Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar told Dawn Television on Saturday that the fuel supply route through Torkham had been blocked “to tell how serious we are”.

Pakistan has been a close U.S. ally in the unpopular campaign against terrorism and it has tens of thousands of soldiers battling militants. But it forbids incursions by foreign forces.

The five-month-old civilian coalition is more sensitive to public opinion than former army chief Pervez Musharraf, who was forced out of office in August.

While the brief interruption to fuel supplies demonstrated the West’s dependence on Pakistani cooperation to keep troops in landlocked Afghanistan supplied, Pakistan’s leverage is limited.

The government gets paid by the United States for expenditure and logistical support in fighting militancy in the region, and needs billions of dollars of foreign assistance to stave off a looming balance of payments crisis.

Most fuel and other supplies for U.S. forces in Afghanistan are trucked through Pakistan, crossing the border at two points: Torkham and Chaman, to the southwest.

The Chaman crossing, used to supply foreign forces in southern Afghanistan, was operating normally on Saturday.

In April, Russia agreed to allow NATO to transport non-lethal supplies through its territory and into northern Afghanistan.

Reporting by Kamran Haider; Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore kamran.haider@thomsonreuters.com; +92 51 281 0017; Reuters Messaging: kamran.haider.reuters.com@reuters.net rtr scm

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