The route in question was used by coalition forces for transporting supplies by land from Karachi to Afghanistan until November, when Pakistan shut its border to NATO convoys after an air strike mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Since then, Pakistan has demanded a fee increase from $250 to $5,000 for every truck that crosses the border. The United States has offered to pay $1,000.
Talks to reopen the route are stalled, but the withdrawal of the team of low-level specialists does not indicate a significant break in U.S.-Pakistan relations. The New York Times reports:
Withdrawing the team, made up of technical specialists, was not a political slap at the Pakistanis, but rather a practical necessity, the officials said. The team had been in Pakistan for 45 days and is returning home while higher-level political bargaining continues.
The talks have not collapsed,” an anonymous official told the publication. “They have come to the point where there is no reason for them to stay, because they have gone as far as they can. When they have come to the point where a political decision is made, they can come back to tidy up the pieces.
According to the BBC, part of the team is already gone, while the rest will return to the United States soon and technical consultations have been concluded. Washington may be downplaying the development, but last week Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, refused to meet with U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Lavoy, who traveled to Karachi specifically to settle the matter. Additionally, the United States has refused to apologize for the November bombing.
Since the route was closed, NATO has sent supplies by air through Russia and central Asia, signing deals with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
The more options you have available to you when you're mounting a major logistics effort, like supplying the war effort in Afghanistan, the better, Pentagon spokesman George Little told the Associated Press.
As a technical matter, we could in theory do our work without the ground supply routes. It would certainly be better to have them open and less costly.