NEW YORK - A ‘low-key duo’ - Pakistan’s Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and US Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides - hammered out the deal that broke the seven-month deadlock over NATO supply routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan, according to a media report.

Citing American and Pakistani officials, The New York Times said the breakthrough was “not won through the high diplomacy efforts that dominated headlines through that stretch, but rather through an unconventional back-channel run by a low-key duo - Shaikh and Nides.

“After months of painful negotiations that reached a formal conclusion this week, that road has reopened to NATO supply traffic and the broader diplomatic relationship has wobbled back on track — at least for now,” Times’ correspondent Declan Walsh wrote from Islamabad.

“The Pakistanis received an American apology for the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers in American airstrikes in November — and other, more tangible benefits. The United States will transfer $1.1 billion in delayed military aid in the coming days, giving an urgent lift to an ailing economy. The Americans have also promised to refurbish 130 miles of Pakistani road.” The dispatch said both - Shaikh and Nides - “cut their teeth in finance: Mr Nides came to the Obama administration from Morgan Stanley, while Mr Shaikh is a soft-spoken Boston University graduate who previously worked in the World Bank and equity finance.

“The channel between Mr Nides and Mr Shaikh was established in late May amid secrecy after months of mishaps and missed opportunities on the part of more seasoned players. Much of it revolved around the vexed notion of an American apology.”

The Times said, “At first Pakistan’s foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, asked the Americans to stall their apology until Parliament met. But by the time she met (US Secretary of State Hillary) Clinton in London in February, anti-American riots had seized Afghanistan after an episode in which American troops burned copies of the (Holy Quran). Mr Obama’s expression of regret for that caused his aides to caution against a similar gesture to Pakistan, amid fears that the president’s rivals could label him as ‘apologiser-in-chief’.”

A major NATO conference in Chicago in May stirred hopes of a breakthrough, the dispatch said and a day later, Mrs Clinton and President Asif Ali Zardari agreed to the channel between Nides and Shaikh.

“Through e-mails, conference calls and discreet meetings, at least four drafts of the American apology went back and forth, correspondent Walsh wrote. The two men played on their personal chemistry and shared business background, often eschewing the traditional posturing of diplomacy. They also had to contend with significant resistance in their own camps.

“Pakistan’s army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani rejected early American offers of an apology for deaths ‘on both sides’. Mr Nides pushed to bring around skeptics in the White House, where anti-Pakistan sentiment was hardening.

“The president and his advisers were swayed, however, by money and geopolitics. The alternate supply route, through Central Asia, was costing the American military an extra $100 million per month, or about $17,000 per truck. That route was also, to some degree, hostage to the dissipating good will of President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

“Positions shifted. At a barbecue at Pakistan’s Washington embassy residence in late June, the national security adviser, Thomas E Donilon, signalled to (Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Sherry) Rehman that the White House was ready to move. Mr Shaikh invited Mr Nides and an American team to Islamabad. On July 1, the two sides gathered in Ms Khar’s Islamabad home for a fateful five-hour meeting.

“It got off to a rocky start. General Kayani opened the meeting with a new draft apology that the Americans had not seen; Mr Nides exploded with anger in protest, according to several people present, and officials from both sides took a break, venturing into the garden for fresh air.

“On resuming, both sides calmed down and reworked the text, line by line. Two days later, in a carefully orchestrated manoeuvre, Mrs Clinton phoned Ms Khar and said ‘sorry’ for the deaths of the 24 soldiers.

“Days later, the first trucks rumbled out of a Karachi port, headed for Afghanistan.

“Under the agreement finalised this week, the United States will continue to pay standard trucking fees of about $250 per truck — less than the $5,000 demanded by Pakistan at one point. Crucially, it also eases the immense task of transporting military materiel out of Afghanistan that will be needed as the 2014 withdrawal deadline nears.

“Still, officials say it should take at least two months to clear the backlog of 11,000 containers in Karachi, some of which have been stuck there since November.

“Despite all the talking, several Pakistani demands remain unresolved: for a halt to drone strikes, which seems unlikely, and a resumption of military aid, which has better chances of success.

“Some officials, even while expressing relief that relations had at last reached a corner, if not quite turned it, warned that the crisis highlighted the dangerous frailty of relations between the two countries.”

One senior Pakistani official was quoted as saying, “This relationship can’t be subjected to so many wounds in such a short space of time.”

Quiet duo forged supply route deal for US, Pakistan