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Pakistan furious with US over fatal raid, but there's little it can do

Pakistan closed a key border-crossing to NATO trucks supplying coalition forces in Afghanistan after a NATO helicopter raid killed three Pakistani troops. But it will likely have to relent soon.

By Staff writer / October 1, 2010

A Pakistani police officer stands guard on still smoldering oil trucks in Shikarpur, Pakistan, Friday. Suspected militants set ablaze at least 27 tankers carrying fuel for US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Aaron Favila/AP

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Washington

Pakistan has always bristled at US airstrikes inside its territory, but a helicopter gunship attack earlier this week that killed three Pakistani border guards has led to new frictions and exposed heightened sensitivities over Pakistan’s growing dependence on American support.

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US and Pakistani officials have until now managed to paper over unresolved differences over how to deal with insurgents who attack US and NATO forces in Afghanistan from their command-and-control centers in neighboring Pakistan. But this time Pakistan closed a vital supply route for provisioning US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, causing US military and civilian leaders to scramble to attempt to undo the action.

US officials predict the border crossing – one of two Pakistani crossings used by NATO to move supplies into Afghanistan – will reopen soon. The Pakistani government, largely dependent on the US and the West, has no other choice, analysts agree. But the move to close the border crossing, they add, lays bare the government’s inability to react strongly to violations of its sovereignty.

“They don’t have too many cards to play without hurting themselves,” says Marvin Weinbaum, a former State Department Pakistan expert now at the Middle East Institute in Washington. Closing border crossings used by the US “in some ways is their trump card, but they are not really going to play it.”

“They know full well that if they persevered with this, they’d be putting the whole relationship with the US in jeopardy,” he says.

US and Pakistan: uneasy alliance

About three-quarters of the supplies for the 120,000-strong NATO force in Afghanistan move through Pakistan. The US, meanwhile, provides Pakistan with about $2 billion in military aid annually.

The cross-border attack came at a time when the US was already stepping up unmanned drone attacks on Taliban and insurgent refuges inside Pakistan. The US launched a record number of these attacks in August.

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