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What Pakistan wants: US aid

Flow of US aid and presence of its troops serve Pakistan's long-range aim of thwarting its archenemy, India.

By Issam AhmedCorrespondent, And Dan MurphyStaff writer / October 14, 2010

Residents in horsedrawn carts hurry past burning fuel tankers attacked by gunmen in Nowshera, Pakistan. The tankers, sent to resupply NATO troops in Afghanistan, were denied access to the border crossing.

Adrees Latif/REUTERS


Islamabad, Pakistan; and Boston

Events of the past few weeks have been a reminder that the road to winning the war in Afghanistan winds through Pakistan.

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To some extent that's literally the case: Pakistan closed a key supply route for the US-led NATO effort in Afghanistan after a US helicopter opened fire on a Pakistani border post on Sept. 30 and killed three Pakistani soldiers.

Since then, an angry Islamabad has relaxed security on its side of the border and Taliban-linked militants have descended on NATO convoys backed up near the closed Torkham crossing, the gateway to the Khyber pass into Afghanistan. They've burned dozens of fuel tankers and trucks and killed at least three of their drivers.

The United States and NATO have since apologized for the incident, but President Obama's administration continues to appear furious at what they see as Pakistani double-dealing.

In a report to Congress last week, Mr. Obama's National Security Council said that Pakistan "continued to avoid military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with the Afghan Taliban or Al Qaeda forces in North Waziristan." It added that "this is as much a political choice as it is a reflection of an under-resourced military prioritizing its targets."

That's evidence of the longstanding problem between the US and Pakistan.

The report, along with the temporary roadblock lays bare two awkward facts about the war in Afghanistan.

The first is that Pakistan is crucial to the success of the Obama administration's strategy in Afghanistan.

The second is that America's medium-term desire to reduce its financial and troop commitments is butting up against Pakistan's long-term and very different objectives for the shape of the region and Pakistan's role in it.

Pakistani military is very angry at US

Christine Fair, who has advised the Obama administration on its Pakistan policy and is an assistant professor at Georgetown University, summarizes the situation by saying that both sides are furious at each other, but neither is in a position to break from the other.

She says that Pakistan's military is attempting to inflict "an optimal level of pain" right now to make its displeasure known over the cross-border helicopter attack, but won't keep the border closed indefinitely.

"The Pakistani military is very angry right now.… They want to remind the Americans that they have us where they want us," Professor Fair says. "Pakistan is the only logistical option for [transporting] the supplies."

But in turn, the closing of the border is costing local interests – from what she terms the "trucking mafia" to the Taliban commanders who are widely believed to take a cut of the protection money paid to deliver NATO supplies on both sides of the border – a lot of money. Pakistan has left the other main border crossing, at Chaman, farther south, open.

And Pakistan won't be served by its expression of anger for long, she argues.