Trucks carrying NATO troop supplies are set to resume shipments to Afghanistan Wednesday following a deal between the U.S. and Pakistan that ended Islamabad's seven-month blockade.
A customs official at one of Pakistan's two main border crossings said he received orders from the government to begin allowing trucks to cross into Afghanistan at 2 p.m. local time. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Pakistan agreed to reopen the supply line Tuesday after the U.S. said it was sorry for American airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November. The attack prompted Pakistan to close the route and severely damaged already strained relations between the two countries.
The accord will help patch up the relationship, which is crucial for U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, but the two continue to have serious differences that threaten prospects in the war-torn country.
The U.S. could save hundreds of millions of dollars since Pakistan's blockade had forced Washington to rely more heavily on a longer, costlier route that runs into Afghanistan through Central Asia. Pakistan is also expected to gain financially since the U.S. intends to free up $1.1 billion in military aid that had been frozen for the past year.
But the deal carries risks for both governments.
Pakistan is likely to face a domestic backlash given rampant anti-American sentiment in the country and the government's failure to force the U.S. to stop drone attacks and accede to other demands made by parliament.
The Pakistani Taliban vowed to attack trucks carrying NATO supplies once they started moving, calling the government a slave to the U.S.
President Barack Obama risks exposing himself to criticism from Republicans, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who contends the administration is too quick to apologize in foreign policy matters. Anger at Pakistan is high in Washington because of the country's alleged support for militants fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
This risk led the U.S. to hold off apologizing to Pakistan for months, despite repeated demands from Islamabad. In the end, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. was "sorry" for the deaths of the Pakistani troops, but didn't offer the "unconditional apology" demanded by the country's parliament.
Clinton reiterated that mistakes on both sides led to the airstrikes on two army posts on the Afghan border, disputing Pakistan's claim that the U.S. was wholly at fault and carried out the attack deliberately.
Pakistan also demanded much higher transit fees during the months of negotiations - up to $5,000 per truck - but agreed in the end to maintain the $250 price levied before the attack. The U.S. offered extensive road construction projects to sweeten the deal, although officials have not provided specific figures.
Critics of the U.S. in Pakistan will likely seize on the lukewarm apology, static fees and continued American drone strikes to accuse Islamabad of selling out to Washington.
The most vocal opposition to the NATO supply line has come from a collection of hardline Islamist religious leaders and politicians known as the Difah-e-Pakistan, or Defense of Pakistan, Council. The group, which many suspect was supported by the Pakistani army to pressure the U.S., has vowed to hold demonstrations to protest the reopening of the route.