WASHINGTON  – Defense Secretary Leon E Panetta Tuesday welcomed Pakistan’s decision to open ground lines of communication on the border with Afghanistan that have been closed since November. “As I have made clear, we remain committed to improving our partnership with Pakistan and to working closely together as our two nations confront common security challenges in the region,” Panetta said in a statement. With Pakistan agreeing to end its seven-month blockade, border crossings between Pakistan and Afghanistan are expected to open almost immediately, said Pentagon spokesman Capt John Kirby. “We were very clear after the incident about what happened,” Kirby said. “None of this today changes the statement we made.”