Supply line closure strains US-Pakistan ties
ISLAMABAD — Hundreds of US and NATO trucks carrying fuel and other supplies for troops in Afghanistan sit idle. Dramatic images of Taliban attacks on these convoys are splashed across front pages in this anti-American country with a US-allied government.
Pakistan’s shutting of a key supply line for coalition troops in Afghanistan and the apparent ease with which militants are attacking the stranded convoys are shaking an already uncomfortable relationship between Washington and Islamabad.
The tension is occurring just as Washington is stepping up its shadow war on militants harbored in Pakistan’s border regions.
CIA missile attacks, which have killed dozens of insurgents including some high-ranking Al Qaeda operatives, are running at record levels — a sign of America’s impatience with Pakistan’s inaction in some parts of the frontier.
Although they are allies in the war against Al Qaeda, the recent events are a reminder that the two countries’ long-term strategic interests are not always in synch.
As next year’s date for the start of the US drawdown from Afghanistan approaches, that gulf is only getting wider.
The US seeks an Afghanistan free of Taliban fighters and wants Pakistan to help with attacking them on its side of the border.
Pakistan is hedging that when the Americans go home, the Taliban will still be a major power — and one friendly to its anti-Indian agenda — and Pakistan wants to keep them as friends.
The United States has pressured Pakistan to strike not only its enemy, the Pakistani Taliban, but also Haqqani network militants who attack US forces on the Afghan side of the border.
The Pakistani government provides vital intelligence tips that help the CIA drone strikes.
But such cooperation, to the extent that it becomes known in Pakistan, puts the government at risk of looking impotent in the eyes of its own people: A foreign power that many believe is an enemy of Islam is firing missiles and rockets on their territory.
There are renewed concerns about the stability of Pakistan’s civilian government, which is struggling to deal with the aftermath of the worst flooding in the country’s history.
President Asif Ali Zardari is unpopular, resented by many as a US stooge who got the job on a sympathy vote after the assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto.
The Pakistanis closed the main NATO supply route last week to protest a NATO helicopter attack that killed three Pakistani border guards. NATO apologized for the attack, which it described as an act of self-defense.
It was the third time in a less than a week that foreign forces had flown into Pakistani airspace.
There have been four attacks on stalled convoys since then — the latest one killing four people yesterday, underlining an uncomfortable reality: the Taliban and the Pakistan government’s interests are aligned at present in seeking to punish the United States and NATO.