Kimberly Dozier and Chris Brummitt – Associated Press October 5, 2010
Hundreds of U.S. and NATO trucks carrying fuel and other supplies for troops in Afghanistan lie idle. Dramatic images of Taliban attacks on these convoys are splashed across front pages in this anti-American country with a U.S.-allied government.
Pakistan's shutting down 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 comes as Washington steps 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 the two countries are allies in the war against al-Qaeda, the recent events are a reminder that the nations' long-term strategic interests are not always in sync. As next year's date for the start of the U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan approaches, that gulf is getting wider.
The U.S. seeks an Afghanistan free of Taliban fighters and wants Pakistan to help by 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 – so wants to keep them as friends.
The Pakistanis closed the main NATO supply route last week to protest a NATO helicopter attack that killed three Pakistani border guards.
There have been four attacks on stalled convoys since – the latest killing four people Monday, underlining an uncomfortable reality: The Taliban and the Pakistan government's interests are strangely aligned at present in seeking to punish the U.S. and NATO.
Pakistani officials note that they have aided U.S. officials with the recent surge in drone strikes to keep the pressure on militants in North Waziristan while the overstretched Pakistani military is engaged with flood relief.
They say the drone attacks are a combined effort of "U.S. signals intelligence with Pakistani human intelligence."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. remains committed to building closer ties to Pakistan, recognizing that recent floods have caused the Pakistani military to divert resources and attention away from its campaign against extremists.
"We are quite satisfied with the level of cooperation and coordination that we have with Pakistan," Crowley said Monday. "We've had many, many direct high-level conversations. We've seen a shift in Pakistan's thinking in recent months with a great deal of activity over the past year where Pakistan has recognized the threat that these extremists pose to its own security."
Last updated 07/10/2010