The provincial government in Pakistan's northwest state of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has ended its more than three-month blockade of a NATO supply route to Afghanistan over contentious United States drone strikes in the country, citing an apparent change in U.S. policy.
Until Thursday, the Tehreek-e-Insaf party, led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, had been blocking the route to pressure Washington to end drone strikes against armed groups in the region bordering Afghanistan. Khan himself has led these protests and has been a vocal critic of drone attacks in Pakistan.
The decision comes days after a Pakistani court ordered authorities to end the blockade of transit goods into landlocked Afghanistan.
In a statement, Khan's party said it ended the protest to respect that court order, but also because it saw a change in the U.S. drone policy. The party's top leadership "felt that the pressure of the blockade had already resulted in a shift in the Obama administration's drone policy and as a result drones had been stopped for the present," the statement read.
The party did not cite any specific policy change or statistics, but U.S. officials indicated in early February that the U.S. would heed requests from the Pakistani government to curtail drone strikes as Pakistan tries to engage leaders of the Taliban insurgency in peace talks.
“That’s what they asked for, and we didn’t tell them no,” one unidentified U.S. official told the Washington Post.
Khan's party launched the blockade after a U.S. drone strike in November killed Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban.
Mehsud, who was on the U.S. most-wanted terrorist list with a $5 million bounty, was believed to have been behind a deadly suicide attack at a CIA base in Afghanistan, a failed car bombing in New York's Times Square and other brazen assaults in Pakistan that killed thousands of civilians and security forces.
But his killing came as Pakistan was preparing to start peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, enraging its government and the population.
There was no immediate comment on Thursday from the government of Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which has also opposed the drone strikes, calling them counterproductive and violations of the country's sovereignty.
However, Pakistan's government is known to have supported at least some of the drone attacks in the past.
Khan's party had blocked a route from the northwestern city of Peshawar, one of several overland routes used by the NATO for getting vital supplies into Afghanistan. These routes are now generally used to ship equipment out of Afghanistan as the U.S. seeks to withdraw most of its combat troops from the country by the end of this year.
Prior to the Tahreek-e-Insaf blockade, the Pakistani government had periodically blocked NATO supply routes in Afghanistan.
In June 2012, Pakistan ended a seven-month blockade that it imposed after a botched U.S. air raid killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Al Jazeera with wire services