The Pakistani government has decided to reopen the Torkham border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the route whereby 70 percent of US/ NATO supplies and 40 percent of fuel are brought by truck into Afghanistan. The Pakistani Frontier Corps and the Afghanistan National Army began work Sunday to coordinate the clearing of the huge backlog of trucks that have been stuck at the crossing for a week and a half. Some reports say that the opening is expected to occur on Monday.
Pakistan closed the crossing to trucks transporting goods for NATO & the US after a September 30 incident in which US helicopter gunships made incursions into Pakistani territory and then fired missiles at a Frontiers Corps checkpoint, apparently mistaking the scouts for Taliban. Two scouts were killed and four wounded. Pakistani nerves were already raw because of unmanned drone strikes on Pakistani territory. US President Barack Obama and Gen. David Petraeus appear to have decided to push for more hot pursuit missions into Pakistan from Afghanistan, and this decision was absolutely unacceptable to the Pakistani military, as well as to the public. When the Frontiers Corps scouts were killed, Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani appears to have felt the moment opportune to nip the ‘hot pursuit’ doctrine in the bud by closing the main NATO transport route and reminding Washington just how badly it needs Pakistani good will.
The US and NATO were forced into uncharacteristic apologies to the Pakistani government, over which Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and President Asaf Zardari waxed lyrical, and which appear to have mollified public opinion somewhat and to have saved face for the Pakistani elite. My guess is that the US has given representations to Kayani that no uncoordinated hot pursuits will be launched into Pakistan from Afghanistan by the US military.
In fact, In fact, Interior Minister Rahman Malik openly threatened the US and NATO after the apology was issued:: “Pakistani forces are capable of defending the sovereignty of the country and in case of any incursion in future, they will use any option in response.”
To add insult to injury, the Pakistani government is considering imposing a tax on the NATO supply trucks. The huge trucks tear up the roads and do represent a cost to the government.
In the past week and a half, as the border closure idled the some 3000 trucks that typically are on the roads supplying NATO, the Pakistani Taliban sent 150 fuel trucks into flames and killed 15 persons. Wire services quote some truck drivers as saying that driving these supply trucks is getting too risky.
The whole affair reveals how weak Bush’s wars have made the US. In 2001 Bush officials could just threaten to reduce Pakistan to rubble if it did not turn on the Taliban and join the Bush “war on terror.”
Now, with the US bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq and in the wake of 9 years during which the US military was shown supremely vulnerable to unconventional military tactics, no such threat directed at Islamabad would be taken seriously. The US genuinely needs Pakistani help. The threats are being issued in the opposite direction, and the US military is the party that is being forced to swallow its pride and make an about-face on policy.