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NATO chief urges Pakistan to keep Afghan transit lines open

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen holds a news conference during a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen holds a news conference during a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged Pakistan on Monday to keep open supply lines to NATO forces in Afghanistan despite anger over a U.S. drone strike that killed the Pakistani Taliban leader.

Pakistan said on Sunday it would review its relationship with the United States after Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud was killed two days earlier in North Waziristan, near the Afghan border.

"I feel confident that the Pakistani authorities will maintain open supply routes and transit routes because it is in Pakistan's own interest to contribute positively to stability and security in the region," Rasmussen told a news conference.

The Pakistani government denounced Mehsud's killing as a U.S. attempt to derail peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, who have killed thousands in their campaign to impose Islamist rule.

Some Pakistani politicians have demanded that transit routes through Pakistan, used to supply NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, be cut in response.

Pakistan is the main route to supply U.S. troops in landlocked Afghanistan with everything from food and drinking water to fuel. Any closure could be a serious disruption as U.S. and other Western forces prepare to withdraw most of their troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year.

Pakistani cooperation is also seen as vital in trying to bring peace to Afghanistan, in particular in nudging the Afghan Taliban, allied to, but separate from, the Pakistani Taliban, into talks with the Kabul government.

Pakistan and the United States agreed in July 2012 to reopen land routes to Afghanistan, ending a seven-month crisis that damaged ties between the two countries. Without the Pakistani route, NATO forces are forced to use more expensive methods, such as airlifts, to bring supplies in.

Rasmussen declined to comment on the drone strike that killed Mehsud but appeared to lend support to U.S. actions, saying "terrorism constitutes a threat to the whole region".

He said he believed the Pakistani authorities, including the government and the military, realized it was in Islamabad's interest to ensure peace and stability in Afghanistan.

"The security of Afghanistan and Pakistan is inter-linked. There can't be security in the one country without security in the other," he said.

(Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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